US university administration refuses to sign contract after staff union declares contract ‘ratified’

American University

US university management stalled contract ratification process for hundreds of campus workers, seeking to stretch and ignore tentative agreement [TA] which was signed by the Academic Affairs Staff Union of American University (AU) last month.

On Monday, October 3, the staff union posted on its social media feed that “we are still waiting” for the university to complete the signing process. The post called for workers to rally on the campus lawn on Wednesday, October 5.

About 550 AU Staff Union workers, members of Local 500 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), took part in a five-day strike from August 22-26 after negotiations on a new contract.

Workers are demanding wage increases to keep up with inflation, an end to punitive job evaluations, and an end to a tier system that punishes older workers, pitting them against new hires.

On September 16, the AU Staff Union announced on Twitter that a contract had been “ratified” and emphatically stated “we have a contract”. In fact, while the workers had signed the TA, AU had not. “We have an agreement, are they [AU] will you honor it? a worker rhetorically asked in his comments to the World Socialist Website.

The strike threatened to disrupt the university’s academic year, as the Democratic Party-ruled District of Columbia prepared to send students back to unsafe schools, setting the stage for a new wave of fall-winter COVID .

The staff workers, however, encountered resistance, not only from the administration, but also from their own union, SEIU Local 500. The organization called off the strike while saying a tentative agreement had been signed. By allowing workers to leave without the contract signed by both parties, the SEIU violated the basic principle: no contract, no job.

In an article published two days after the strike ended, the WSWS wrote: “AU workers should have no illusions about the end of their struggle. … It’s possible that the SEIU called off the strike with no real agreement in place, only the school’s promise to continue negotiations.

This warning has been fully confirmed. Not only did the university use deceptive methods against staff members, but according to people in contact with the WSWS, it sought to alter the language of the document.

“Yesterday we received a letter from the Human Resources office stating that the administration was ‘revising the language to ‘ensure accuracy,'” a worker said. “They should not change the language on which we have already agreed!” Indeed, if the language is still being changed, there is no agreed contract; the workers have been misled by their local representatives.

University staff enjoy tremendous support within the community. The strike was warmly welcomed by freshmen, who marched alongside staff on August 26.

Throughout the strike, the SEIU separated the strikers from other workers, including the Adjunct Union and the Grad Workers Union, also represented by Local 500. As one sophomore put it: “You can imagine the impact of a strike by all the workers. … Graduate students teach entire sections of courses. Lab sessions would be closed.

The strikers opposed the Democratic Party-controlled school, whose president, Sylvia M. Burwell, was a former member of the Clinton and Obama Democratic administrations. Its board is made up of well-connected Democratic Party operatives and Wall Street representatives.

“They have the money,” a campus employee said in response to claims the school didn’t. According to a Best Colleges published in the fall of 2021, “After three rounds of [pandemic bailout] funding, the largest ever federal investment in higher education now totals more than $76 billion. The publication states that “half of these funds must go to students, but there are still billions that can be spent with few strings attached”.

In other words, at least half of the “largest ever federal investment in higher education” languishes on schools’ balance sheets, if it hasn’t already been spent to inflate the bank accounts of the wealthiest investors.

The SEIU chose to appeal to the Democratic Party during the strike, rather than the working class. He invited a who’s who of local and aspiring politicians to visit the picket lines in mock “solidarity”. In the end, these forces all combined to urge the workers to call off their strike, declaring a great victory when the campus had not committed to anything.

UA workers must unite and demand a campus-wide strike until a contract meeting their demands is met.

But this is precisely what the union wants to avoid. The SEIU, whose President Mary Kay Henry has been called “the most influential labor voice in the White House” by Washingtonian magazine, is more interested in maintaining its affiliation with the Democratic Party and its business allies than in waging the kind of struggle necessary to secure real gains for working people.


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