On Tuesday, workers in the Brown libraries voted 25 to 14 to accept a new contract agreement with the university. The new contract stipulates that the workers pay double their current health care contributions over the next four years, from 6 percent currently to 12 percent in 2014. Those health care increases are paired with yearly wage increases ranging from 1.5 to 2 percent each year. The contract also includes language about creating a committee to encourage job retraining and preserve bargaining unit work in the future. About 25 members of the library bargaining unit did not participate in Tuesday’s vote.
Looking back, there is a lot to say about what happened the last two months. This contract fight went from one that the BDH was refusing to cover because the university was unwilling to provide an on-the-record comment–look back through the archives and notice that the first article wasn’t published until October 14, two weeks after the contract was initially set to expire–to one that gained vocal support from the editorial board of the newspaper itself. During the first weeks of petitioning and dining hall-storming about the contract, a lot of students were asking SLA members questions like, “Why should I care about this?” But by the last day before the contract expired, two hundred students and community members piled into University Hall and loudly, raucously SHOWED the university how much we cared about respect for library workers. And, most tangibly, during the first few weeks of negotiations, the university was insisting on a contract with minimal raises and health care increases of 16 percent over three years. By the end, those raises were higher and health care costs went down to 12 percent over four years. There’s language in the contract about preserving bargaining unit work. There’s awareness and community energy about supporting the library workers going forward.
None of this would be true if not for the literally thousands of combined phone calls to administrators, petition signatures, email blasts, delegation visits, letters to the editor and op-eds, protests, and, ultimately, the library workers’ strike vote that accompanied these negotiations. The library workers and the Brown community, fighting together, changed this contract for the better.
And yet, reading the Brown Daily Herald’s article covering the settlement, one can’t help be struck by Vice President Beppie Huidekoper’s closing comment: “I want to add that Brown is so fortunate to have such a dedicated community. These are extremely challenging times and Brown’s employees have been terrific at working together to ensure that Brown’s students get the best experience possible.” All during this fight–and most other fights relating to workers’ rights at our school–the university administration has tried to pit students and workers against each other. Ludicrously, Huidekoper and Co. publicly imply that there are only two line items in the university’s budget, compensation for workers and student services, and the two items directly trade off with one another. In this imagined zero-sum formulation, students and workers are in competition for resources, and whatever benefits one group necessarily hurts the other. But any casual observer of university goings-on could begin to list off all of the other expenditures that the university deems worthwhile, and Vice President Huidekoper insults the student body’s intelligence by implying that we would be fooled into thinking that the university’s crappy contract proposals were somehow proposed with students’ best interests at heart. Undermining workers’ control over their hours, increasing their health care costs, and trying to undermine their bargaining unit has nothing to do with “ensur[ing] that Brown’s students get the best experience possible.”
What Huidekoper’s comment underscores is that the university’s opportunistic money-grubbing is not going let up any time soon just because the contract is settled. The conversation about preventing union-busting at Brown’s libraries is ongoing, and workers–including those who did not vote for this contract–are committed to continue fighting against out-of-touch, anti-worker university proposals formulated by management without any input from workers themselves. The Student Labor Alliance is committed to continuing to support library workers in any way possible in the struggle for fair treatment for all university employees. We are unequivocally opposed to union-busting, to lack of worker autonomy, to cuts to bargaining-unit positions, to the university’s ongoing attempt to squeeze every last dollar out of the people who make this university work. Library workers are not going to accept continued attacks on their jobs and their rights, and we, as Brown Student Labor Alliance and all of the students and community allies who were mobilized during this contract fight, are still fighting alongside them.