Negotiations Break Down Between UVM, Non-Teaching Staff

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(Host) Negotiations have broken down between the University of Vermont and the union representing non-teaching staff members.

The two sides deadlocked over wage issues and proposed changes to retiree health benefits.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) UVM administrators and the union have formally declared an impasse in the contract talks. That means a federal mediator will be brought in this fall to help reach an agreement.

Carmyn Stanko is an electrician at UVM, and a spokeswoman for the union that represents about 350 service and maintenance workers. Stanko says UVM proposed a freeze in salaries in the first year of a three-year contract, and a .5 percent increase for the next two years.

(Stanko) "The talks broke down on the fact that there wasn’t anything proposed on the table that wasn’t a give-back."

(Dillon) UVM wanted workers to pay a larger share of health premiums. And Stanko says the administration also sought major concessions to contract provisions that cover retiree health plans.

The amount retirees now pay varies from 4 to 16 percent, according to a formula.

Under UVM’s proposal, workers who don’t retire by July of next year will have to pay 60 percent of their post-retirement health costs, Stanko says.

(Stanko) "We were promised these certain things when we were going to be ready to retire. And basically, they have now reneged on all of it."

(Dillon) But UVM says the school can no longer afford generous contributions to retiree health plans. Richard Cate is vice president for finance.

(Cate) "That is a benefit that is rooted in a different era. And the combination of significant increases in the health insurance premiums and the fact that people are living much longer is making it an unsustainable cost."

(Dillon) Cate says UVM would have to cut jobs if it tried to retain the retiree health benefit.

(Cate) "If we were to continue with this benefit we would be faced with a choice. And the choice would be do we want to have fewer people and pay them less, because there’s only so much money there."

(Dillon) But Stanko says the maintenance and clerical workers aren’t responsible for UVM’s current budget difficulties.

She says the administration could find substantial savings by trimming the salaries of top administrators.

UVM faculty are negotiating a new contract with the administration.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon.

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