April 9, 2014
Buffalo—Bolstered by an impressive turnout of supporters, the SEIU Local 200United members who work at Canisius College rallied for a wage increase and respect from their employer on Wednesday, April 9. A student representative spoke about how conditions have deteriorated in the college dorms, because one housekeeper is cleaning when there used to be three. “There is hair and dust everywhere,” said Vince Alrich. “And we know it’s not because the housekeeper isn’t doing her job. It’s because she can’t do the work of three.” Afterwards, he led students to the office of the college president, John Hurley, to hand-deliver a petition of support signed by 500 students.
Tanya Loughead, Ph.D, speaking on behalf of the Faculty Association at Canisius, said she and her colleagues stand in solidarity with the 70 members of SEIU Local 200United. “We care deeply about the students here, and we know they can’t thrive in an environment that is so contentious.” She also had a petition for Hurley.
State Sen. Tim Kennedy, a Democrat who represents Buffalo, spoke vehemently about the situation at the college, located in Buffalo and home to 3,280 students. “We will get this problem fixed,” he promised the workers.
The nearly 200 activists in attendance also included representatives from other labor unions in Western New York—the Teamsters, 1199SEIU, Communications Workers of American (Graduate Student Employees Union), Building Trades, Electrical Workers, United University Professions, Steelworkers, Autoworkers, Painters, and Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. The Committee for Economic Justice also attended.
The rally at Canisius resulted from lack of progress at the bargaining table. Member wages have lagged behind inflation while pay for the 10 highest paid administrators has increased by $137,000. The Union has sought to change the history of percentage increases that benefit the highest paid and instead pursue a straight wage increase. Even the Union’s highest paid members have agreed in the past to take a flat rate increase, even though it meant a lesser percentage for them, because members believe that bottom wage earners need an increase.
Chris Ring, chair of the bargaining unit, works in building maintenance. He spoke at the rally as well. “As members of Local 200United, we recognize the plight of our brothers and sisters in lower paid jobs so we proposed a raise for them and nothing for the guys in the trades. Management turned us down. We did this to close the gap, and we think it should be done throughout the college.” Member Leslie Josker, a housekeeper, also spoke, talking about how difficult it is to clean several buildings when it used to be one.
The last bargaining session was March 25, and Union Representative Josh Warden said he doesn’t expect another one in the foreseeable future. “These workers haven’t received a raise in the last few years,” Warden said. “It’s time that Canisius College increase their pay to a fair, living wage.