The University of Connecticut (UConn) attempted to subcontract non-union custodians at lower costs but failed to negotiate the ability to do so with the union.
The UConn Facilities and Operations Department had recently moved two supervisors and 25 custodians working at their athletic facilities to other positions and hired new custodians through a private contractor.
The Connecticut Employees Union Independent (CEUI), which represents the workers affected, told CT Inside Investigator that, “The decision to uproot the workers has thrown their lives in turmoil,” and that “it was horrifyingly disruptive.” Although the unilateral move would not have affected union members’ compensation or benefits, they would also still be located on UConn property.
CEUI pointed out the university’s decision violated their collective bargaining agreement for not notifying the union before making the new hires.
CEUI had scheduled an “anti-privatization rally” on Sept. 9, but according to an email from the Connecticut Working Families Party (WFP) it was canceled because UConn administrators and CEUI reached an agreement. The university will not outsource any more custodial jobs this current fiscal year, will not lay off workers and will work with the union in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement. WFP called this “some good news!”
But good news for whom? UConn recently revealed that $1,000 of student tuition goes toward unfunded state employee pensions. Lloyd Blanchard, interim executive vice president for finance and chief financial officer for UConn, said during an Aug. 3 meeting that, “The state fringe benefits continue to rise in their cost, and it’s gotten to a point where UConn spends about a thousand dollars per student, in terms of the tuition and fees that they pay. Those tuition and fees are going to pay for retiree liability and not for their education.”
Blanchard went on to say that UConn’s tuition cost is approaching the high end of other similar institutions and is now being marked as a potential “risk” for the future.
WFP shared an invitation on their social media to the CEUI rally, encouraging its members to stand in solidarity with UConn workers. Coincidently, WFP’s “People’s Charter” calls for canceling student debt so it is surprising that they would be so supportive of an event that increases this debt.
The state must do a better job negotiating with the unions. Collective bargaining agreements should not put handcuffs on agencies trying to reduce costs. Unilateral changes and subcontracting are the two most frequently filed complaints at the state’s Labor Board Managers need to be given the flexibility to make these types of changes so they can achieve the best outcomes for taxpayers and students.