Feb. 15-21, 2002
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Employees form union
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways
Weekend doubleheader to open transformed baseball stadium

Off the Shelf -- recently published books by U.Va. faculty and staff

Correction -- Thermometers supplied for free
Debbie Ryan looms as a giant in women’s basketball
Hunter to head science, engineering libraries
Notable -- awards and achievements of faculty and staff
Scholarship applications for faculty and staff children now available
Hot Links -- Newcomb Hall’s Web site
Engineering annual open house Feb. 23
Finding meaningful patterns in climate
union agreement
Photo by Matt Kelly
Signatories to the union agreement included (from left) Jan Cornell, local union president, Brooks W. sunkett (at rear), a CWA vice president, and Peter Catucci, a CWA vice president.

Employees form union

By Matt Kelly

Members of the Labor Action Group have taken the first steps toward forming a union, creating the Staff Union of the University of Virginia and signing a pact with the Communications Workers of America.

In a noon-time ceremony Feb. 6 at Newcomb Hall attended by about 75 people, Jan Cornell and Sylvia New Strawn signed on behalf of SUUVA, and national officers Peter Catucci and Brooks W. Sunkett signed for CWA.

Organizers hope to recruit 500 members for the new local within a year, according to Cornell, the president of SUUVA and a facilities manager at the School of Continuing and Professional Studies. There are approximately 4,200 classified employees in the academic division and 4,900 employees at the Medical Center. New Strawn, executive vice president of the union and an administrator in the art department, said dues are $10.70 per month and may be paid through payroll deductions.

Under Virginia law, public employees are not allowed to bargain collectively or go out on strke, but Cornell said the new union would give U.Va. employees a voice both locally and in Richmond, where many decisions are made affecting University employees.

“We always welcome input from faculty and staff,” said Leonard W. Sandridge, executive vice president and chief operating officer. “Many of the issues identified by the group this week, such as how to reward hard-working employees, especially in times of tough budget cuts, are matters of great concern to all of us.”

As one example of an issue the union hopes to address, Cornell cited specifically the state’s classified employee compensation plan and its three-level evaluation system, derided at the meeting as “pass, fail and walk on water.”

Cornell, who said she loves her job, but is frustrated by the ineffectiveness of working inside the existing system, chided the University for not doing more for its employees. “U.Va. should help us out in times of economic crisis,” she said, describing the University as wealthy and well-managed. “I can’t see why we have no raise or bonus.”

The University should not be raising parking fees or health care premiums at a time when employees are not getting raises, she said, noting that classified employees will take home less money this year than last.

Sunkett, CWA’s vice president of public, healthcare and education workers, praised LAG and SUUVA for its “positive and lasting influence,” and said the union would help make U.Va. a place where employees have a voice and economic security, which he said are also important lessons for college students to learn.

CWA started as a telephone union, Catucci said, then branched out to add members from the public and non-profit sectors. Its approach is a triangle of bargaining, organizing and political activity, with each side holding up the others, he said. He credited the union with helping elect Mark Warner governor of Virginia.

The political arena may be where most of CWA/SUUVA’s battles will be fought, since the University cannot recognize the new union as a bargaining agent for employees. J. H. Verkerke, U.Va. professor of law and director of the Project for Employment and Labor Law Studies, said that Virginia law does not permit collective bargaining for salary and working conditions for public employees. But he also noted that an organized group can raise visible public pressure more easily than single individuals.

The Office of Equal Opportunity Programs, University ombudsman Brad Holland and the employee relations division of Human Resources are among the entities set up to resolve employees’ concerns.

English professor Susan Fraiman said LAG’s efforts have been building toward a new staff union because of conditions at the University, not influence from “outside agitators.” She predicted that graduate students and others would join the CWA.

Sue Herndon, a member of LAG and SUUVA who works for the Health System, said it was important that the University understand that the union was not formed out of anger or spite, but from a concern for the institution and the constituents it serves.




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