By Justine Erdin and Noemi Arellano-Summer
The union for Boston University service workers avoided a strike and came to a tentative agreement with university administration late Wednesday night for a new four-year contract after a dispute over workers’ health insurance according to a press release by the union, 32BJ SEIU.
After working into Thursday morning, university administration and the workers’ union bargaining committee reached a tentative agreement, according to the press release. The deal is pending until a ratification vote by the union members is taken within the week. The union and the university ultimately settled, and the voted-on strike did not occur.
“We’re pleased with how negotiations ended, we’re pleased with the tenet of contract agreement that the bargaining committee was able to reach with the BU administration. We have members that sit on our bargaining committee and they worked really hard to negotiate a contract that’s good for all the workers at BU,” said Amity Paye, the communications director for 32BJ SEIU. She said she is reasonably certain the contract will be ratified by the members next week, especially since several service workers were at the negotiation table.
The main problem concerned the workers’ health insurance and their wages. Paye explained that under the old contract, the workers were covered under an HMO BU health insurance plan, which allowed them to obtain patient consultation and treatments at relatively low costs. Yet under the new contract, the administration attempted to roll back health insurance. In connection to the health insurance, the workers also demanded higher wages, evident at a rally on Oct. 29.
Wages rose by 2.5 percent, and, according to Paye, a health fund has been negotiated to assist with out of pocket medical costs. Service workers will transfer to the insurance plan the rest of the university employees use, a PPO plan, as opposed to their former HMO plan.
“This is a major win for the men and women that keep the B.U. campus safe, clean and comfortable for students and faculty every day,” said Roxana Rivera, Vice President of 32BJ SEIU, according to the press release.
A previous rally was held Oct. 23. The day before the final rally, Oct. 29, Student Government held a meeting that included a discussion of the workers’ contracts and their desire for affordable healthcare, according to the Daily Free Press.
On October 29, a large group of middle-aged men and women gathered outside BU’s administration center at One Silber Way for the rally Tuesday afternoon. Their signs read: “Good Jobs,” “I Support B.U. Workers” and “Ready to Strike.” A woman by the entrance shouted through a megaphone: “What do we want?” to which the crowd loudly replied “Good jobs!” The protest was peaceful.
The protest was co-planned by the workers’ union. Paye said at the rally that the workers would agree to work under the current wages as long as they could keep the old health insurance benefits. She explained that they were not per se asking for more—they only wanted to continue to have access to their current benefits.
Two days later, the dispute between custodial workers and the administration had been tentatively resolved. The 4-year contract expired at 11:59 p.m. on Oct. 31. The new contract commenced on November 1. Before the agreement, the workers had voted to strike if the administration and the bargaining committee didn’t reach a compromise, as referenced at the rally through signs and slogans.
Since the strike would involve over 720 workers, Paye was confident that BU would relent and meet the workers’ demands, especially since BU is such a large and prestigious academic institution.
That was the case in past cases of strikes at other universities in Boston, where the workers usually win. For example, in 2016, Harvard University dining hall workers succeeded in achieving their goals of raising wages and avoiding paying more for health insurance after a three-week strike.
“Eventually someone will have to take out the trash,” Paye said.