New security guard union contract promises raised wages

Courtesy of Brian Pough

“It’s only fair that a College with an endowment over $1 billion and an annual tuition over $50,000 give its guards a raise.” Vassar security guard of 20 years and Chief Steward of the Union Michael Phillips offered this statement in a recent press release from Hudson Valley Safety and Security Officers Union (HVSSOU) regarding the new Union contract for Vassar security guards.

On April 30, 2019, Vassar security guards began negotiations that ran through the summer, fighting for better working conditions and compensation. Through rounds of talks that at times turned tense, the negotiations between Hudson Valley Safety and Security Union and Vassar resulted in a three-year union contract for security guards that increases their pay and provides higher quality benefits.

The HVSSOU press release reveals that the new contract outlines increased wages and vacation days. Specifically, the three-year deal would raise starting wages by $2.00/hour, a 50 cent per hour longevity incentive for guards with at least 15 years of service and a cumulative wage increase of 8.25 percent over the life of the deal. Further, part-time guards will receive paid vacation benefits, and those with four or more years of service will receive 15 days of paid vacation time and the opportunity to earn a $350 bonus for not missing any days of work.

“In a single contract, we’ve taken this job from below average pay to a living wage. We were able to do this because, although we had spirited debates, we remained united,” said Union Steward and Vassar security guard of three years Eamon Ferrell, per the release. Ferrell continued, “We had strong member participation—at our last bargaining session, the union bargaining committee had 10 people at the table. That grassroots activism and that Union unity will be essential to build on what we’ve accomplished when this contract expires on July 1, 2021.”

Vassar Associate Vice President of Human Resources Ruth Spencer explained via email correspondence that both sides suggested changes they felt should be made, and contract conditions were added through a collaborative give and take. The foremost concerns for the security guards were increasing compensation and establishing consistent expectations in the workplace.

Vassar Director of Safety and Security Arlene Sabo described how the contract establishes clear expectations for the guards, and elaborated on the salient aspects of this deal, saying via email,“I would say among the important aspects of this contract are increases to the pay scale, including longevity pay. And that training pay guidelines have been set.”
Sabo continued, “I believe it helps everyone [to] know and operate under a consistent set of guidelines that a contract provides and having those guidelines up in the air leaves people feeling insecure about their workplace.”

Vassar’s security guards are hopeful about these new working conditions, as their contracts are now closer to being on par with those of security guards at other colleges in the Hudson Valley area.

“The contract is not perfect and we didn’t get everything we wanted. However, I think this is a vast improvement [upon] the last contract we had. We are still behind Bard and Marist with wages and benefits, but we’re catching up,” said HVSSOU President Dan Elliott.

Elliot further explained that the new contract may increase recruitment for Safety and Security. He elaborated,“By raising the starting pay, hopefully, this will entice better qualified candidates and give them an incentive to stay. This may help to prevent the high turnover rate that we have had this year.”

Sabo also agreed that while improvements have been made, the negotiations also left opportunities for future changes to create better working conditions for security guards. “Of course, we are always looking to improve, and I am looking forward to continuing to work in partnership with our union to do so in the coming years,” said Sabo.

Security guards, though pleased with the outcome, faced difficulty reaching this agreement as tensions flared over particular topics.

For instance, the Union and the College clashed over insurance providers and associated costs. Elliot explained in a recent press release, “the biggest issue is the health care. We had challenges with the College in that area. We offered the College some solutions that would save the College and the Union Members money. However, the College didn’t want to do the paperwork or take on another carrier. Hopefully, the Union will fight harder on [health care] in the next contract.”

Farrell reiterated that the discussions became heated at certain points: “At times, the negotiations were very contentious, especially when it came to fiduciary matters. It got to the point where the College had to bring in a mediator for the last three sessions to get the contract resolved.”

Although the negotiations process was trying and intense, the 21 Vassar security guard Union members stand proud of their accomplishments. On a daily basis, Vassar security guards manage the safety of around 2,500 students, all while handling the high-stress situations that occur on college campuses, such as heavily-attended events and late-night weekend shifts. The new union contract aims to better compensate the guards for their dedication in protecting the campus.

“We bargained hard at the table for our members. We didn’t get everything we wanted, no one ever gets 100 percent in a negotiation. But I am proud of the gains we’ve made. Our bargaining committee represented everyone fairly and there’s not a single security guard who is not doing better under this contract,” concluded Elliott.

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