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Labor Union Strife Ahead?
“Management gets the union that it deserves” goes the old saying, and despite the College’s protestations of social responsibility and its payment of double-the-market wages and benefits to the custodial staff, we could be in for a few hot months with the SEIU union.
At a union meeting led by SEIU Local 560 President Earl Sweet (photo) on Thursday evening, the 200 attending members (out of about 520 total) voted unanimously in a straw poll to refuse the College’s offer over the next three years of a 2% annual wage increase, with no lay-offs, the continuation of free single-person health care (enjoyed by approximately 200 members), and a commitment to union staffing in most College buildings. The union is asking for 3% per year. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that inflation in the northeastern United States was 1.69% over the past year.
The union is unhappy with the employment of non-union staff at the King Arthur Bakery Café in Baker Library and at the Bagel Basement in Kellogg. Arbitration is currently ongoing about these matters. Dissatisfaction also stems from the employee perception that the College is top-heavy with administrators, directors and highly paid contract managers.
Nether side seems willing to modify its position, so the negotiation could come down to a take-it-or-leave it situation, which might lead to a strike.
The union is dominated by its custodial staff, who well recognize that their compensation from the College is hugely above market. But working conditions at Dartmouth are poor and morale is generally low. Parenthetically, any employer knows (or should know) that employee satisfaction is far less correlated to wages than it is to respect, appreciation and motivation on the job. The College scores low on these indices, primarily due to the poor hiring of managers over the years. Even with its high wages, the College experiences excessive turnover among its employees.
Rumors are widespread that the College is working with outside service providers to see if it can replace union staff.
In short, the situation is a real mess. As in so many other areas of College life, years of terrible management have led to the worst of all possible worlds: in this case, an expensive, unproductive, and unhappy labor force.
Addendum: Before the knee-jerks at Students Stand With Staff swing into action, they and their faculty cronies should rigorously investigate just how well paid Dartmouth’s unionized employees are compared to the average compensation paid in the local labor market for equivalent work, and even in relation to such artificial norms as the living wage. And our large-hearted radicals would do well to remember that Dartmouth is an educational institution, not a sugar daddy to unthought-through notions of social justice. High wages and benefits are hamstringing the College.
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