Students at Skidmore College recently rallied in support of service workers on campus. The demonstration came as the workers’ union is engaged in labor negotiations with the school’s administration.
On Thursday morning, students from Skidmore College gathered and stood silently, holding signs in support of workers on campus. The school’s administration is currently involved in labor negotiations with the Service Employees International Union Local 200United.
A representative of the newly-formed Skidmore Labor Student Alliance, Aneta Molenda, said the turnout was more than she expected.
"We were aiming for 50, hoping for 100, and we were blown away by how many showed up," said Molenda.
Molenda said 140 students gathered after her group engaged students by word of mouth on Wednesday.
Molenda said that the students did not stand in support of any union or workers in particular, but wanted to create awareness of ongoing labor disputes and to let the school’s administration, student body, and workers know they are standing in solidarity.
"It wasn't about protesting anything but it was just showing the workers, and administration, and other students that 'here we are, we are watching, and we know what's going on we care, and we really want to support the workers," said Molenda.
Teresa Mack-Piccone, an external organizer with SEIU Local 200United, said that the workers her union represents were due to begin negotiations on a new three-year labor contract in mid-May, but were delayed.
"Some delays are normal. Not everyone can make it to negotiations, but these continued by the college, by management all through the summer months," said Mack-Piccone. "So this last set of negotiations was set to begin on this past Monday and we were supposed to have three days this week."
Mack-Piccone said the administration tried to delay the negotiations once again, but agreed to give the union time on Thursday morning. The student demonstration occurred prior to the negotiation session. SEIU represents about 150 workers in a variety of on-campus jobs, including custodians, mail workers, food service, and maintenance staff.
Mack-Piccone said that the union went into Thursday’s meeting seeking a handful of changes for a new labor contract.
"A fairly compensated retirement plan, decent healthcare coverage, and options for change if the workers decide if they want that, and fair living wages," said Mack-Piccone.
She said the negotiation meeting with the college was unsuccessful and it is yet to be determined what the next steps will be.
A statement from the college released to WAMC reads in part…
“Skidmore has had a long history of bargaining in good faith, and will continue to do so. We are committed to providing competitive compensation, which includes salary and benefits for all employees.
Our union employees are important members of the Skidmore community. The College values the important work and the essential contributions made, especially to our students.”
The release also gives background on an additional labor dispute involving workers at Skidmore.
According to school officials, a petition to the National Labor Relations Board was filed last June by the United Professional and Service Employees Union Local 1222.
Local 1222 reportedly is seeking to represent employees currently aligned with SEIU Local 200United.
In August, an election was held for workers to determine which union to be represented by, or not at all. Without a clear majority in the elections, the college is expecting to hear shortly from the NLRB on a runoff election.