Local union members rallied behind Earl Sweet, president of the local chapter of the Service Employees International Union, as he called for Dartmouth staff members to take action to protect their rights as the upcoming round of College budget cuts may threaten their employment. Sweet emphasized the importance of worker solidarity to the standing-room only audience packed into Dartmouth Hall 105 on Wednesday.
Sweet said that College staff are expecting another round of layoffs to sweep through Dartmouth after the Board of Trustees meets in early February.
Last February, the College laid off 60 employees in response to a plunging endowment, The Dartmouth previously reported. The College is now attempting to cut $100 million from its budget over two years, according to previous reports in The Dartmouth.
Speakers at the rally questioned the College’s spending habits and recalled Dartmouth’s prior labor violations.
Wayne Langley, an SEIU member and the higher-education director of the SEIU in the Boston area, told the assembled group to “think about getting angry.”
“There’s no more time for hand-wringing, there’s no more time for fear this is the time for action,” Langley said. “I’m talking about righteous anger, anger that’s focused, anger with a purpose.”
The SEIU’s contract with Dartmouth is also up for re-negotiation, contributing to the elevated level of tension between the College and the union, SEIU Local 560 vice president Chris Peck said. He added that the local union has never before involved the national SEIU in negotiations with the College because the local union has historically had “great relations” with the administration.
“We’ve been here since 1966 and we’ve always been able to work things out,” he said in an interview with The Dartmouth.
Sweet and Peck both said that there has been increased interest in the union as staff members fear losing their jobs. The SEIU national is bringing at least two representatives to campus to help the group organize, Sweet said.
“When we’re negotiating, we will be negotiating for everybody who works at Dartmouth, not just the union,” he said.
Sweet introduced the 13-member negotiating committee to the crowd assembled in Dartmouth Hall. The committee, which includes representatives from Safety and Security, Dartmouth Dining Services and the Athletic Department, will eventually meet with the College administration to discuss how budget cuts will affect the staff.
“Next month when the trustees meet, we don’t know what they’re going to do, but we have a pretty good idea that there are going to be some layoffs here,” Sweet said. “I’ve been here for 30 years and I feel unsafe.”
Sweet spoke of workers who have been forced to work just nine months each year, highlighting concerns of how employees will continue to pay for health insurance during their three months “off.”
The speakers made jokes about the College’s use of “sabbaticals,” reduced hours and other cutbacks, criticizing the techniques as a way for Dartmouth to bring in subcontractors without violating their union contract.
“The hard truth is that Dartmouth has never given you anything without a fight and they’re not about to start now,” Langley said.
Langley said that universities lack tact when they fire employees, citing his experience with Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He said that layoffs there were like “going to the electric chair” and that any Dartmouth layoffs would be done in a similar manner, arguing that Wal-Mart is “nicer” when terminating staff.
Langley also argued that employees are suffering because Dartmouth’s investors gambled with the College endowment.
“The school would like you to believe that they have invested in a reasonable way,” he said. “What they actually did is they took the endowment and put it on a roulette wheel.”
The current renovation of the College President’s House and plans to build a new hotel in Hanover contradict messages sent to workers about the importance of cutting back spending, Sweet said.
“I understand the president of this College is new, I understand that he’s a good guy,” Langley said. “But I read in the middle of this crisis that he’s spending $3 million renovating his house.”
The renovation of the President’s House is being funded by private donations and does not use Dartmouth’s general funds, College President Jim Yong Kim said, as previously reported by The Dartmouth. The hotel under construction in downtown Hanover is being built by a private company and not by the College, according to previous reports.
History professor Annelise Orleck said that many members of the faculty feel “disturbed” that the budget cuts have disproportionately affected those who can least afford it. She also brought up recent labor law violations at the Hanover Inn where some employees were paid less than minimum wage.
“The administration has used a lot of language about how this is a family, not just a corporation,” Orleck said. “I have to tell you, this is a company town, and in a company town corporations always use the language of family.'”
Peck visited a meeting of the College Democrats earlier this week to raise awareness of the situation, David Imamura ’10, president of the College Democrats of New Hampshire, said.
“We earnestly believe that everyone in the Dartmouth community should be represented at the bargaining table,” Imamura said at the rally.
Audience members expressed concern for how the College has been handling the budget cuts. Some suggested picketing the College President’s House and mentioned the possibility of a strike.
“Do these kids know what these buildings are going to look like when they send us down the road?” one employee said.
In its current contract with the College, SEIU employees are barred from engaging in a strike, Sweet told The Dartmouth in a previous interview. The local union’s agreement with the College notwithstanding, the SEIU national must be consulted before a strike is held, and normally only permits strikes when negotiations have failed, Sweet said at the meeting Wednesday.
Students at the meeting said that other students feel shielded from budget cuts and do not realize the importance of protecting jobs to maintain the quality of the “Dartmouth experience.”
To help College employees, students could engage in a boycott of all classes and community members could boycott events at the Hopkins Center, an attendee suggested.
“I want to make sure that the students and the faculty here today know that we appreciate their support,” Guy DiFrancesco, a DDS worker who has been at the College for 35 years, said.
The union is planning a peaceful demonstration outside of the Hopkins Center later this week, Sweet said at the meeting. Next Monday, the union will also be distributing “One Dartmouth, One Community” stickers to staff, students and faculty to raise awareness, he said.