This articled was updated in print and online 10/22/12.
Barnard College clerical workers voted to approve a new labor contract Friday morning, following months of heated negotiations and a student outcry at proposed cuts.
A “substantial majority” of the members of United Auto Workers Local 2110 voted in favor of the new contract, according to union president Maida Rosenstein. The union has about 175 members at Barnard, most of them administrative assistants, academic assistants, and access attendants, who control entry into residence halls.
The new contract, which lasts for three years, does not include most of the cuts originally proposed by Barnard administrators in May, Rosenstein said. It still needs to be approved by Barnard’s board of trustees.
“Given the bargaining landscape, the economic situation ... we think this contract is really victory,” Rosenstein said. “We made them turn more than 180 degrees.”
Under the new agreement—which is retroactive to July, when the previous contract officially expired—union members will receive a $1,000 bonus in the first year of the contract, with 2 percent wage increases every year thereafter. By comparison, Barnard had originally proposed a wage freeze for the first year.
Union members will continue to receive the same health care benefits, which administrators had wanted to reduce. They will also make the same retirement contributions, which administrators had wanted to increase.
And in what Rosenstein called a “very progressive” move, the contract also includes tax reimbursements for same-sex couples’ health insurance plans. As same-sex unions are not recognized under federal tax laws, couples previously had to pay tax on their plans.
“I’m happy the process is over,” said Pamela Phillips, a member of the union’s negotiating team and an assistant at Barnard’s Center for Research on Women.
The contract did retain some of administrators’ original proposals, including criminal background checks on dormitory staff, $1,000-per-year child care increases, and a cap on severance pay. But on the whole, union members said they were satisfied with the new contract.
“It was a difficult fight, but I think we’ve come out with something decent,” said Clive Dillon, who has been a public safety attendant at Barnard for 35 years.
Sharon Walls, a member of the negotiating team who has worked at Barnard for 28 years, said that “this is one of the best contracts we could have gotten from the administration,” given Barnard’s ongoing efforts to trim its budget and eliminate persistent operating deficits.
A Barnard spokesperson wasn’t able to respond to a request for comment Friday afternoon, but Barnard President Debora Spar said in an email to students that “we believe that the agreement represents a grounded and fair compromise, and addresses our mutual goal of ensuring that Local 2110 members are fairly compensated and supported for their hard work and dedication.”
The cuts originally proposed by administrators, which Rosenstein said would have been the most severe since 1996, spurred many students to rally in support of the workers.
Evan Burger, CC ’13 and one of the leaders of Students Support Barnard Workers, said that the contract issues “revitalized the activist community, supporting student-worker solidarity in a way I haven’t seen in my four years here.” He called the new contract “a huge victory.”
“It changes the landscape of Barnard,” he said.