University News

BDS employees vote to switch union representation

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Following the lead of University library and janitorial workers, Brown Dining Services employees voted Thursday to switch their union representation from Service Employees International Union Local 615 to the United Service and Allied Workers of Rhode Island. USAW won by a 34-point margin in the run-off election, which was held following a close race at the end of August that resulted in a 76-73 vote for USAW. Because neither party received the required number of votes needed to win in August, the run-off was necessary.  
On Sept. 28 – weeks before the run-off vote – the SEIU filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board against the University for unfair labor practices following a series of deductions from employee paychecks at the beginning of the semester. The SEIU contends that these over-deductions, marked as union dues, created a skewed atmosphere for the election.
Mike Sylvester, deputy director of higher educationfor SEIU Local 615, said they informed the University of the error after the first set of paychecks was issued, but the University continued the deductions. Though they said they do not believe the University was “nefarious” in its actions, Local 615 believes Human Resources was negligent in not catching the problem earlier and reimbursing all employees before it became a larger issue, he added.  
This error “poisoned the election and created an atmosphere that unfairly benefited the other union,” the SEIU wrote in a recent press release.
Many of the employees affected are nine-month employees of the University, meaning that Brown does not employ them during the summer season.
Nelson Lopes, who works at the Blue Room on this nine-month contract, said when he returned to campus in September, he realized the University had drawn union dues from his paycheck for the three months during which he was not employed and thereby exempt from dues. He said he still has not been reimbursed for the deductions.
The University said this error is one of the many difficulties Human Resources experienced at the beginning of the semester when it implemented its new financial management system called “Workday.” Students employed by Brown University Dining Services also experienced shortfalls in their paychecks during the first few weeks of the semester.
“There was an administrative error in the implementation of Workday. … It has since been remedied,” said Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and University relations. “We regret very much that this transpired.”
The NLRB is currently investigating the charges and will determine whether there is enough evidence to warrant a full investigation in the coming days, said Robert Redbord, deputy regional attorney for the NLRB in Boston. If sufficient cause is determined before the seven-day grace period, the board will not certify the election of USAW.
Karen McAninch, a business agent for USAW, said there has been strong support for USAW within Dining Services for months.
Gloria Fraielli, a first cook who works in Dining Services, approached McAninch with a series of complaints about the SEIU during the summer. Fraielli told The Herald that many of the workers were dissatisfied with the lack of SEIU representatives present on campus to hear their concerns.
“They have a local office here, but there is never anybody there in the office. So if you place a call there, you would be lucky to get a call back,” she said. “We sort of got forgotten about.”
Fraielli also said many of the workers were impressed with how USAW had managed the negotiations between the janitorial staff and the University earlier this year. Dining workers want USAW representing them in the next set of collective bargaining negotiations, she added.
“I was there when they counted out the votes and the people who were there were excited. They were chanting USAW, USAW,” Fraielli said. “I know there are some people in the main dining room that wanted to stay with SEIU, but I didn’t hear anything negative being said because, when it comes down to it, we’re … brothers and sister(s), and we’re going to continue to fight a strong fight during negotiations.”
If USAW is certified, McAninch said they will immediately begin working on a new contract for Dining Services employees that will improve wages, health care benefits and pension plans.
She said USAW is in a better position to meet the needs of Dining Services workers because its membership is much smaller, which means that more time and energy can be directed towards workers’ needs.
“We have a track record for being there when we’re needed,” McAninch added.
But Sylvester said SEIU is not ready to give up because they sense a strong support base among the workers despite the results of the run-off.
“We definitely plan on pushing (the charges) forward,” Sylvester said. “We will do whatever the board needs in order to overturn this election.”

  • Anonymous

    I find Karen McAninch to be a lovely person who works tirelessly to help the workers she represents.

  • Anonymous

    Karen also has a sister that is a lovely person, who provides moral support to Karen in her laudable efforts to ensure ther rights of those she represents are protected.

    What’s not to love?

  • Anonymous

    The first comment sounds like SEIU sour grapes… from someone who should have paid more attention in English class. Is that you, Cindy?

  • Marie Malchodi

    It is unfortunate that comments that include an attack on someone’s personal and professional integrity, such as the one below aimed at Karen McAninch, can be posted anonymously. If you are unhappy with the quality of your union representation, you need to speak up in the light of day rather than hide behind the nameless/faceless void of internet technology. I have worked with Karen for over 20 years, including serving with her on the negotiating committees for three separate contracts. Though we have not always agreed on specific issues, I can say without any hesitation that her work on behalf of the union membership at Brown University is consistently honest, smart, and sound. No one becomes rich and famous representing unionized workers in a tiny independent union; you do it because you are dedicated to it. Karen is not perfect, but she is completely dedicated to the well-being of all the workers she represents.

  • Anonymous

    Karen McAninch has made me three inches taller and a better dancer.

  • John Gallagher

    Time for local 615 to do a moral inventory think where they went wrong. The workers voted against you because of dissatisfaction. Unions don’t prosper without worker dissatisfaction and workers don’t switch unions without dissatisfaction of how their union represents them. All power to the rank and file. Let’s get rid of these union cartels and give workers more freedom to choose whom they will represent them.