GW housekeeping workers may replace union

Housekeeping and grounds employees concerned about unfair labor practices, high dues and health care benefits will vote Wednesday on whether to replace their present union.

Current union dues are capped at $50 per month, and they range depending on employees’ salaries. Most unionized housekeeping and grounds employees earn about $13 per hour. The workers are currently members of Service Employees International Union Local 82, a division of the AFL-CIO.

Local 621, which is vying to represent GW groundskeepers and replace Local 82, charges members $25 per month for dues.

“The (current) dues are way out of wack for employees that don’t make adequate wages,” said Steve Goldblatt, an attorney for Local 621.

While Local 82 representatives said they use dues to acquire resources necessary to run the organization, representatives from Local 621 said they do not think Local 82 uses the money properly.

“I work for the people,” Local 621 organizer Rafael Griffin said. “These people have been in Local 82 for 30 years and don’t receive a call even for Christmas from (the union).”

Local 621 leaders said they will make it a priority to fight for lower health care rates and, if elected, they will work toward free health care.

Workers’ health care rates have risen since the last contract was signed three years ago.

Bernard Hackett, a night worker and member of Local 82’s 14-person bargaining team, said he pays $185 every two weeks for health care, but costs will go up to $307 in January. He said he paid about $50 during each pay period a few years ago.

Local 82 representatives said they will negotiate health care costs with GW before the workers’ contract expires Dec. 17. GW and Local 82 re-negotiate their contract every three years.

Local 82 representative Sheri Davis said about 20 negotiation sessions will be necessary but declined to comment on specific negotiations during the first meeting. The next session will be contingent on the results of Wednesday’s election.

Hackett said he is skeptical of Local 621’s plans concerning free health care.

“Nothing is free,” he said. “To expect a union to come in and give you complete coverage for free is impossible.”

Among other grievances, several workers said they are unhappy that GW hires non-unionized subcontracting groups to perform housekeeping and grounds work. Interim Director of Media Relations Bob Ludwig said GW allows the third-party contracting groups to employ their own workers to do grounds and housekeeping work in several residence halls. The third-party groups often pay their non-unionized employees significantly lower wages.

Although the current union-GW contract has no provisions concerning subcontracting labor or rising health care costs, leaders supporting both unions are pressing for change.

“(Subcontracting) is a concern because (unionized workers) are being taken away because GW has subcontracted that work out,” Goldblatt said.

Subcontracting groups work in residence halls such as the Hall on Virginia Avenue, the Dakota and The Schenley. Griffin, of Local 621, said he estimates 150 to 200 non-unionized housekeeping and grounds employees work at GW.

Although Goldblatt alleged that Local 82 has not been addressing the increasing use of subcontractors, Local 82 representatives said subcontracting is currently being discussed in GW-union negotiations.

Local 82 representatives said they are hopeful the new contract will include a provision preventing subcontracted labor, especially in newer buildings on campus.

“(There have been) a lot of conversations about (subcontracting) now because there has been a lot of construction on campus,” Davis said.

Some workers said the current union would have more seniority to negotiate a contract .

“If (Local 82) was weak it was because we were weak and didn’t do anything about it,” said Renee Jones, a housekeeper in Crawford Hall who has worked at GW for 15 years and is in favor of keeping Local 82. “(But now) we’re strong, we’re united and we’re proud and we’re going to win the election.”

Local 82 representatives said they are concerned about bringing a new union to GW because it is smaller and newer than Local 82. Local 621 has 1,500 members in New York, New Jersey and Maryland. Local 82 has been at GW since the 1970s and has 1.6 million members nationally.

Local 82 representatives said they had trouble finding documentation about Local 621, and the union does not have a Web site.

However, Local 621 representatives said they still get their message out.

“We have meetings (on campus) … plus we write letters to the workers,” Griffin said. “Web sites do not put anything into peoples’ pockets.”

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