Written by Jim Irwin, Vice President for Business and Finance & Chief Financial Officer Washington & Jefferson College
SEPT. 19TH - Washington & Jefferson College is in the midst of normally scheduled contract negotiations with the Services Employee International Union (SEIU), which represents our valued Facilities Employees. As always, we are acting in good faith to reach a fair agreement and have not yet reached the point of a final offer.
We understand that the SEIU’s standard negotiating tactics include publishing information in hopes of gaining allies – in W&J’s case, among students and other employees. This is their right, but it is regrettable that so much of this information is inaccurate and misleading. We feel obligated, therefore, to set the record straight by providing factual information.
It is important for the W&J community to know that in these negotiations, the College has offered the Union the exact same wage increases and retirement benefits that it has provided for all College employees. Though negotiations continue, the SEIU has not accepted this offer as of today and is demanding a substantially larger wage increase than was provided to other W&J employees. The College does not believe this is fair, as we value all employees equally.
"[SEIU] is demanding a substantially larger wage increase than was provided to other W&J employees. The College does not believe this is fair, as we value all employees equally."
Contrary to public statements by some SEIU members, our Facilities Employees lost no wages or benefits during the pandemic. In fact, when the College was closed and working remotely was not an option for our Facilities Employees, President Knapp allowed these employees to remain at home and continued to provide their full pay and benefits throughout this time. Unlike many other colleges and universities where employees were furloughed without pay, W&J ensured that employees and families were not adversely affected by the loss of a paycheck.
The College provides all employees with high quality health insurance. Our Facilities Employees have elected to participate in a healthcare plan provided by SEIU and funded primarily by W&J. In our current negotiations, we have requested information from the union to better understand why the College is paying close to three times more in premiums for health coverage provided through SEIU than it is paying for our other employees. The union has not been forthcoming with this information, choosing instead to make misleading public statements suggesting the College wishes to deprive Facilities Employees of healthcare coverage. This is untrue, for W&J is committed to providing health insurance of comparably high quality to every employee.
A recent statement by a Facilities Employee falsely claimed that College custodians provide “maid service” for the President’s House. Custodial services are only required at the house on rare occasions when large College events are hosted in the common areas. Employees residing in other college-owned residences also receive no maid service from Facilities Employees.
Until 2018, the College had subcontracted all its facilities-related services to an outside vendor. President Knapp invited the outsourced employees to become employees of the College, and when they were hired, the College voluntarily recognized the SEIU Union. This action represented a deliberate effort to make the Facilities Employees part of the W&J family to be treated respectfully and receive the same benefits and opportunities as all other employees. We have done so consistently.
We would also like to make it clear that the College administration does not condone any form of intimidation of employees and is unaware of any situation where this has occurred. The Facilities Employees who say they have witnessed such behavior should report it through proper channels so that an investigation can be conducted, and corrective action can be taken.
The SEIU has threatened to strike in an effort to interfere
with the College’s operations and obtain demands that far exceed that which the College provides to all other employees. This is unfortunate; however, the College will continue to bargain in good faith to obtain a fair and just contract consistent with the wages and benefits we provide everyone. We have sought the assistance of the Federal Mediation Service in an effort to reach a consensus that serves the best interests of W&J and our Facilities Employees.
"We would also like to make it clear that the College administration does not condone any form of intimidation of employees and is unaware of any situation where this has occurred."
Of course, the College hopes the Union does not strike, because this will not benefit the Facilities Employees and will create challenges for us to effectively serve our students. Regardless, the College will continue to operate and meet the needs of our students, faculty and staff.