BU union members rally for fair contracts

Boston University union members rallied Thursday afternoon for fair contracts, after the University raised healthcare costs and cut back benefits in the new proposed contract. 

BU union members
Union members protesting outside Marsh Plaza on Oct. 27. BU union members protested in response to the university’s new proposed contract for rising healthcare costs and cutting back benefits. HAIYI BI/DFP STAFF

BU custodians, tradespeople and grounds and maintenance workers, represented by 32BJ SEIU, rallied at Marsh Chapel and marched to 1 Silber Way demanding the University bargain fairly before the Oct. 31 contract expiration. 

The new proposed contract would lower the accrual and use of sick days, lower second and third differential, increase healthcare costs and give workers a raise of 2.5% within the next year, according to organizers.

Roxana Rivera, Vice President of District 615 for 32BJ SEIU, represents the BU union workers and helped organize the rally. She said workers should not be “invisible.” 

“We really want to have the University understand the urgency and the attention that they need to give over the coming days to this process and that there’s a lot at stake for hundreds of families that serve the community,” Rivera said.

She said the workers that showed up for the rally represented the 700 BU employees whose contracts are being considered and this was an opportunity for them to come together and realize they’re not alone.  

“They were able to look at each other and know that they’re not the only one really saying, ‘Yeah, I deserve more here,’” Rivera said. “It’s important for people to come together just as we saw throughout the pandemic.”

BU spokesperson Colin Riley declined to comment. 

The union is arguing against many of the proposed points in the contract because of the risks workers took during the pandemic and are asking for the new contracts to “recognize” their commitment. 

“During the COVID-19 crisis, facilities workers kept BU’s 15 million square-foot campus clean and operational — risking their own health to ensure the health, safety and a positive campus experience for students, faculty and visitors,” the rally flyer said. “(These workers) are asking for strong wage increases and standards so they can support their families and help their communities get back on track.” 

The flyer further highlighted BU’s ability to recover from the pandemic, with the University seeing a “27% increase in net operating income in the last year, an increase of $552 million in endowment funds over the pandemic and having the best fundraising year in 2022.”

At the rally, there were many speakers from the bargaining unit and City Council, including Boston City Council President Ed Flynn and Boston City Councilor-at-Large Ruthzee Louijeune.  

Flynn said the City Council supports the BU union workers in their call for a fair contract reflective of their work during the pandemic.  

“During this pandemic you worked, you helped so many in need, you didn’t give up on these students, you didn’t give up on this institution,” Flynn said. “The Boston City Council has always stood with men and women across greater Boston … and supports you during these difficult days.”

Louijeune called out BU for their “audacity” to pause the contributions of employer 401(k) during the COVID-19 pandemic and not paying workers fairly after having an endowment that went up nearly a billion dollars. 

“All work is dignified work and all work deserves fair pay,” Louijeune said. “The deadline is on Monday, Oct. 31, which is also Halloween. We’re not asking for no trick, and we don’t even want no treat. What you want is what’s fair and that’s a fair contract.”

While the contract is expected to expire on Monday, bargainers are still in the room with BU administrators working to get a fair contract for BU employees. 

Adam Crawford, one of the 17 individuals representing the BU workers in the bargains, said conversations were “rocky” at first but he believes they can reach an agreement before Oct. 31.

“It’s been a good bargaining session so far. We still got a long way to go,” Crawford said. “I do think we can get there. Both sides have conceded certain things and I think we’ll come to an agreement that we can all live with.”

Crawford said he is encouraged to keep bargaining because of what it will mean for people who have his job in the future. 

“I would like to leave it better than I found it … and I would like that person to have benefits that I fought for,” he said. “So stick with your union and fight and things may not seem like they’re getting better rapidly, but they are they’re getting better.”

The bargainers have not yet agreed to a new contract.

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