Michele Patenaude has been on staff at the University of Vermont for close to a decade. She says now's the time for her co-workers to stand together.
"We are trying to organize the staff at UVM, staff are the only group that are not unionized," Patenaude said.
That could change in the next few weeks. An effort is underway to have roughly 800 clerical and administrative staffers vote on one of three options: to stay as nonunion employees, to form an independent union or to form a union affiliated with the National Education Association.
Patenaude supports the NEA option.
"For me the main issues are working conditions and also the way that we're treated," she said. "I think we should have a seat at the table when it comes to decisions that are being made about our jobs which affect our families and our lives."
Right now, UVM professors, police and maintenance workers are already part of unions. University administrators say if a similar structure is used with staff it could change the way the groups work together.
"It does create a different relationship between administration and the employees because if a group is unionized, you work with the bargaining unit on matters of benefits and salaries and working conditions and everything else," said Richard Cate, the vice president for finance and administration at UVM.
Cate says he is not pushing employees in one direction or another but says they should consider all of the options, and that in the meantime, there are ways for staffers to share their concerns.
"We have a staff council group that we don't negotiate with them, but they do represent in some ways a means by which staff bring their issues to the administration," Cate said.
University staffers will consider the options in a two-day vote Sept. 18 and 19.
"Everyone should come out and vote in the democratic process and I think staff need to stand up and take charge of their campus and their negotiating. I would rather see more people get out and vote, even if they vote no. I would rather know that everyone had their chance to have a say," said Paul Chapman, a member of the library staff.
If one of the three options does not get more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two proposals will face off in a second vote.
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