SEIU announces its intent to strike

Service Employees International Union Local 73 on Monday announced its intent to strike. The strike could come as soon as March 11.

The union represents about 800 building and food service workers at the University and has been in contract negotiations for about nine months. Its contract expired in July 2012.

“Over the last week, we’ve talked to our membership about what they’re willing to accept,” said Ricky Baldwin, SEIU chief negotiator. “We came to the conclusion that management is not moving fast enough.”

He said even though negotiations have made progress over the past few weeks, they can’t “let it go on indefinitely” for two main reasons.

“If we get to the end of the academic semester, our strike threat virtually evaporates,” Baldwin said, referring to the down time during school breaks when food service workers are temporarily laid off. “The leverage we have with the strike just isn’t there in the summer.”

He also cited legal consequences because of lengthy negotiations, such as a bargaining impasse. Should this happen, the University would have to impose a final agreement with no possibility of further negotiations.

He said most issues that have been holding up negotiations relate to wages. The University wants the union to participate in the campus wage program, of which most University employees are a part. This program provides a flat rate percentage increase to compensate for inflation.

“Most of the large issues that we consider to be close to being resolved are all contingent on settling this campus wage issue,” Baldwin said.

In past negotiations, the University suggested setting up a base rate increase in which union workers would receive the campus wage program’s raise, but they would have the option of having the base rate increase in case the campus wage rate was lower than the base rate.

Baldwin said that while the intent to strike legally allows the union to strike as early as March 11, it doesn’t have to if negotiations are going well.

“If we’re almost there, we’re not going to say ‘Well, that’s all great, but we’re going on strike anyway,’” he said. “But if it doesn’t look like we’re going to have an agreement ... then we’re prepared to walk out.”

Campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said in an email that the University would be able to continue operations if a strike occurs.

“The University will implement its strike contingency plans and will continue operating in a manner that causes the least disruption to students,” she said.

Despite the University’s assurances that services will continue, Baldwin said those services would not be of the same quality.

“They can bring in some temporary replacement workers but not nearly enough to accomplish the job,” he said. “If they feel that they can run the clock and then make some kind of an agreement, that’s not going to work.”

Kaler also said the University wants to reach an agreement with the union.

“The University will continue negotiating in good faith with the union until a collective bargaining agreement that’s agreeable to both sides can be achieved,” Kaler said.

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