Response to Pres. Fogel’s all-campus email

April 17, 2006

From: The Student Labor Action Project
To: The UVM Campus Community
Re: Employment Issues and Student Protests

As students of an academic community, we are committed to upholding Our Common Ground of challenging injustice wherever it exists. We are equally grateful for a community such as the University of Vermont that encourages and accepts freedom of expression. Because UVM encourages a diversity of viewpoints, we felt it was necessary to respond to the letter from President Daniel Mark Fogel sent on April 15, 2006. It is important for the University community to know and understand the reasons underlying the campaign for a “livable UVM.”

We are writing as a collective of students concerned with the state of labor and workplace rights on our campus. The lowest-paid members of the UVM workforce are often overlooked and underappreciated. Many have worked here for years and do not earn enough to support themselves or their families. As a community committed to equality and leadership in issues of social justice, we believe that it is necessary that all employees earn at least a livable wage. This is not a partisan issue; we have heard from the workers themselves.

For the past two years, a collective of concerned students, led by the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP), has been campaigning for responsible labor practices. We have worked within the “available channels for responsible communication” for the majority of the campaign. This has included numerous meetings with President Fogel, Provost John Bramley, Vice President Michael Gower, and Chief of Staff Gary Derr to discuss our policy proposals. The meetings did not result in any substantive efforts by the administration to address the issues. We tried to work with the administration, but they continuously demonstrated an unwillingness to work with us. These issues need to be priorities, but they have not been recognized as so until this point.

During the fall of 2005, the Student Government Association (SGA) began crafting a resolution in support of livable wages. The SGA unanimously passed it after researching the issue. It was then that the administration began working with the SGA on the matter but has since continued to stall. The Basic Needs Budget Task Force committee was expected to begin work in February of 2006 but was delayed until an emergency preliminary meeting was called on Thursday, April 13 in response to the Tent City demonstrations. The committee has been postponed again until April 28th, a far cry from an immediate response. This allows fewer than three weeks before the student representatives will be leaving for the summer. We feel that the issue of livable wages has not been taken seriously enough by the administration, and for this reason remain cautiously optimistic about where the committee will go. The lack of administrative investment is a cause for concern.

In addition to livable wages, we are proposing the freedom to organize and responsible contractor agreements to improve workplace rights. The administration has acknowledged both of these issues and has subsequently rejected our proposals.

The first issue of “fair labor practices” is not as respectful and fair as President Fogel suggests. We have heard firsthand accounts of numerous incidents of workplace intimidation across the campus. The “Informed Choice” website propagates many common myths about unions, creating a hostile workplace that allows for undue administrative influence. Organization is a basic quality of a free and open workplace and is a right that needs to be protected.

The second issue is for responsible contractor agreements. These policies ensure that all contractors for future construction meet minimum guidelines for labor practices. These can include livable wages for all workers, provision of health insurance, and apprenticeship programs for young Vermonters. We need labor standards for construction that guarantee that contractors are not cutting corners in the areas of benefits and safety.

On Tuesday, April 11th members of SLAP and approximately seventy other students began a Tent City on the UVM Main Green to show our concern and support for livable wages. The Tent City was permitted for four days and three nights, and was a hub for community support and outreach. The permit expired on Friday, April 14th at 4:30 pm. On Friday, a large event was organized to show a culmination of support. More than two hundred students and community members were present, including Representatives David Zuckerman and Chris Pearson, union leaders, faculty members, and workers.

Attempts were made during the day to extend the permit but were denied. Provost Bramley threatened any campers that remained past 4:30 with expulsion, two years imprisonment, and a $5,000 fine. The campers decided that they would remain until asked to leave by Police Services but that when the officers arrived they would leave peacefully. At approximately 8:00 pm, ten police cruisers arrived with lights flashing. They informed the students that they had to vacate the green. At this point, a representative of SLAP approached the officers and told them that the campers were collecting their belongings and would leave peacefully. Police officers walked onto the green and arbitrarily issued eight trespass notices to students that were actively collecting their personal belongings.

By 9:00 pm all of the police left except UVM Chief of Police Gary Margolis. Three UVM Grounds trucks arrived and the students helped load them up with trash and wood. The campers continued cleaning until the green was left in perfect condition.

At an institution that values so highly freedom of expression, it is a shame that this peaceful, nonviolent display of support for workers was so forcefully ended. We are committed to challenging the injustices that prevail in our community, and it is unfortunate that the administration has taken a stance of such stark opposition. The problem is not the nonviolent display of dissent on the Main Green but rather the unwillingness of a few to cooperate with the greater part of the community for a stronger, livable environment for all.

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Welcome to the weblog of the Student Labor Action Project, a campaign of Students for Peace & Global Justice, at the University of Vermont! Here you will find up to date goings on of SLAP, your local worker-student solidarity collective!
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