The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 30 labor force is nearing its seventh month in negotiations with departmental and administrative leadership at Fairfield University. The discussion of a new collective bargaining agreement began on March 8.
Director of Special Projects of IUOE Local 30 Andres Puerta shares that the union is discussing the issues that are important to the facilities workers on campus, such as “safety, wages, benefits, etc.”
Puertas references the death of a contractor who tragically died while working on Fairfield University’s Central Utilities Facility on May, 31 2022. He states that “these negotiations fall on the heels of the death of a worker, a contractor, on campus last year.”
In 2019, the union protested on campus and demanded unionized health care, as covered by The CT Post.
Now, four years later, through these current negotiations, they are “holding the university accountable for safety issues as well as issues like livable wages and good benefits for families,” claims Puertas.
Vice President of Marketing and Communications, Jennifer Anderson ‘97, MBA ‘02, speaks on behalf of the university’s facilities department, sharing that “over the past several months, progress has been made on many areas of mutual interest and the University is committed to reaching a new multi-year agreement that is beneficial to the University and our union employees.”
Puertas cites invoices of differing positions that the administration was obligated to hand over as a result of an information request that the union made in preparation for negotiations.
He states “that there are two landscapers who are employed by the administration and part of the facilities department.” He then displays invoices from Allstate Landscaping, explaining that “the administration should be relying on employees to perform a vast majority of the work on
campus and adding employees if necessary.”
Puertas continues that “the introduction of contractors, for example, to perform landscaping duties takes away jobs from the facilities department while introducing exorbitant costs to students, which we are confident are reflected in tuition bills.”
Furthermore, contractors and union workers are given different titles for the same job responsibilities which results in incongruent pay. An example pay rate includes “Group Leader Grounds” for an hourly payment of $28.13 whereas a “Groundskeeper” is given $20.90 per hour.
The invoices detail how the Allstate contractors earn more compared to university employees, and in some cases, Puertas states that they “earn double what the facilities workers earn per hour.”
“What exactly is the reason that the facilities department has a grounds crew, yet hundreds of thousands of dollars a year are spent on grounds contracting? Wouldn’t it be more cost-effective, and ethical, to use those funds to provide good jobs in the facilities department?” Puertas asks.
According to Anderson, “As the University has shared with the Union, the University outsources work only in certain circumstances, specifically where: the size of the project necessitates external resources, our existing personnel lack the necessary expertise, a permit is required for the work and/or particular time constraints require external staffing.”
She then references recent data that shows that Fairfield University “pays competitively relative to the market which has been shared with the Union.”
“While individual circumstances may vary, in-house staff benefit from full-time employment, competitive wages compared to [the] market, extremely generous benefits including a 9% retirement plan, free tuition programs for University dependents and paid time off. Outsourced workers may not always have year-round employment available or a comprehensive benefits package,” Anderson shared.
While Andres acknowledges that contractors are not provided with benefits such as healthcare, he poses the question: “Why is the administration contributing to the healthcare crisis by not demanding that any worker on campus have sufficient healthcare?”
Puertas goes on to explain that these benefits are not sufficient for the union members, however—especially in healthcare. He describes that the union has come up with its own health plan together that would better accommodate and serve the workers, one that they hope the university will take into consideration.
“We have continually offered in negotiations a health plan that is administered by the union and that most union members receive,” he explains. “This health plan covers workers and families fully and includes all of the benefits that working families need today. If the administration were serious about providing family-sustaining benefits, they would enter into meaningful negotiations with the union regarding these plans and how to pay for them.”
In addition, Puertas raises safety concerns and questions how “diligent the administration is in making sure that contractors have been fully trained in safety rather than just taking the employer’s word for it.” He holds that “Fairfield maintenance workers are fully vetted and their safety training is a part of their record as employees,” but he does not think the same can be said for outside contractors.
Puertas then further considers the death of a contractor on campus and the resulting call to action which necessitates that all workers on campus, including contractors, receive the highest level of safety training in order to prevent another fatal incident.
“We want to reiterate that this is a tragic event and that no one should ever go to work one morning and not return home.” He cites an inspection performed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), in which Puertas states, “As you can see from that data, OSHA issued penalties to the administration.”
Conversely, Anderson claims that “The University was not cited by OSHA for any safety violations related to the subcontractor’s tragic death. Only the subcontractor’s own company was cited for such violations.”
She affirms that “OSHA-certified safety personnel are required to monitor all aspects of contractors’ work in accordance with applicable standards, law and policies. Additionally, outside contractors are required to take (at a minimum) OSHA safety training.”
Puertas holds that “the working conditions and safety of campus workers matter to all students,
faculty and staff at Fairfield. This is not the campus of departmental managers only, it’s the
campus of all students too.
“How the administration treats workers is something that should not be a secret, it should be made public,” he affirms.
Anderson explains that “negotiations will continue until the union and the University have had a chance to submit and fully discuss all of their non-economic and economic proposals.” She also asserts that “The University values our employees and the contributions they make to our campus community.”
Puertas believes that the facility’s workers deserve better treatment as they demonstrate genuine admiration and dedication to the Fairfield community. “The facilities workers on campus and members of the IUOE Local 30 are committed to the university, the students, faculty and staff. They have a genuine admiration for the campus and its mission and have dedicated some of the best years of their lives to the community.”
As a result of these negotiations, the union hopes that the administration will value the well-being of the workers on campus above all else.
Puertas states that he hopes the administration will prioritize the safety of all workers who enter the gates, but he stresses that the university should consider the safety of their employees by “ensuring that workers are receiving living wages with family-sustaining benefits as opposed to barely scraping by and paying health care costs that affect their families.”
He finishes, “The administration can support better and safer jobs, they just refuse to do it.”