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Dartmouth, Union Agree to New Contract for Hundreds of Workers

Dartmouth College union employees have agreed on a three-year contract that gives workers raises after they went two years without.

The previous agreement with Service Employees International Union Local 560 expired on July 1, and the union has been negotiating with the college for months to come to terms on a new deal.

Union workers will receive a 3 percent raise during the first two years of the contract and then a 2 percent raise during the third year. The SEIU represents about 520 blue-collar workers in trades like maintenance, custodial and dining services.

The union approved the contract through secret ballot on Tuesday by voting 229 to 39. Safety and Security employees are also a part of the union, and voted separately from the general membership with 100 percent approval.

The contract is retroactive to July 1.

“You go through these things and in some ways you have buyer’s remorse,” Local 560 President Earl Sweet said. “But I think if you look at the overall way things are going in the Upper Valley, I think we did a pretty good job.”

In 2010, the union agreed to a contract that included no pay increases with the understanding that there would be no layoffs among union employees.

The contract also specifies that employees who are not married and don’t have kids can have their health care premiums paid for by the college. That agreement was in the last contract and will extend into the new one. Sweet said there are about 200 people in the union who take advantage of the program.

The union also has had issues with the college subcontracting jobs that once belonged to union employees. For instance, Sweet said he worries about outside companies being hired to work in the dining halls and on the grounds.

Under the new contract, Sweet said the college is supposed to notify the union when it plans to subcontract jobs.

“They’ve been doing a lot of subcontracting and creating a lot of worry within my Local (560), so we’re trying to slow that down a little bit and get some understanding from the college about what their intent is,” Sweet said.

In the past, the union has filed grievances against the college for subcontracting out jobs and using non-union employees. Arbitration hearings had been scheduled, but Sweet said that the union agreed to drop all previous arbitrations as part of the contract.

The contract also came with a guarantee that all union employees will work at least 48 weeks a year.

Dartmouth spokesperson Justin Anderson emphasized that the college is pleased that a collective bargaining agreement has been met.

“I think the new contract reflects the ongoing commitment ... by providing good competitive wages to all employees inside and outside the collective bargaining unit,” Anderson said.

In October, Sweet told the Valley News that he was mostly concerned with wages, health insurance and the use of subcontractors, all three of which are addressed in the new contract. But despite the wins, Sweet said he still has mixed feelings about the contract.

One thing the union had to give up was the hope of increased salary grades for employees. For example, Sweet said he thinks that many trades, such as electricians or people that work in the heating plant, are being underpaid compared to others in their field. While Sweet said he tried to increase grades at the negotiating table, he said he couldn’t get far.

But Sweet doesn’t plan to drop the issue. He plans to bring employees from different trades before the college and ask for increased salary grades. If the college says no, the union now has the right to arbitrate the college’s decision, Sweet said.

Sweet said he’s lost track of how long the union and the college have been negotiating, but it’s been close to nine months.

“There were days we would just sit there and stare at each other and not get anywhere,” Sweet said.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.