Update, Thursday, 1:25 am: University officials report reaching a tentative agreement with the union on a new contract after negotiating into the night. The deal is pending a ratification vote by union membership within a week. BU Today will update the story later this morning.
BU custodial, maintenance, skilled trade, grounds, and mail employees warn that they may strike if their union and the University cannot agree on a new contract by the time the old one expires at midnight Wednesday, October 31.
Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which is bargaining for the 725 BU workers, says its members voted to authorize a strike if a deal isn’t reached by the deadline. The vote doesn’t guarantee a walkout, but gives union negotiators authorization to call a strike if negotiations break down, says Amity Paye, communications director for Local 32BJ.
The main sticking point in negotiations is whether the union members will be covered by the same health insurance plan as all other University employees—a PPO (preferred provider organization)—or remain in their current plan—an HMO (health maintenance organization). Gary Nicksa, BU senior vice president for operations, says that during the last contract negotiations, in 2014, the University and union agreed to extend the old HMO plan for the term of the contract, since BU had not yet announced changes to its health insurance offerings, but the union agreed that its members would enroll in the PPO when a new contract was negotiated this year.
“We have always offered the same benefits to all BU employees, union and nonunion,” Nicksa says, including medical insurance; employer contributions to retirement plans, up to 12 percent of pay; paid holidays, vacations, and sick time; and tuition remission for both employees and their dependents. (Full-time undergraduate dependents receive 90 to 100 percent tuition remission discounts, depending on their parent’s date of hire at BU.)
If the workers strike, he says, the University is prepared to continue operations and limit disruptions, with updates provided to the BU community as necessary. All classes on the Charles River, Fenway, and Medical Campuses would run as scheduled, and University offices would remain open.
The law allows strikers to picket on public property outside of BU workplaces as long as they don’t impede entrances and exits to classrooms and other buildings. The BU Police Department would keep public order during any picketing. The union has had several campus rallies in the run-up to the contract deadline, all without incident, says Kelly Nee, BU chief of police.
As negotiations continue with the deadline approaching, University officials have answered for BU Today frequently asked questions of concern to both students and staff, in case a strike occurs.
Would classes still be held?
Yes. Classes would be held as scheduled.
Are campus events still going to happen?
Yes. All events would be held as scheduled.
What about dining, mail delivery, and the security assistants at the high rises?
Nothing should change. Dining halls will remain operational, mail will still be delivered, and security assistants will be present. Dormitory mail rooms will not be affected.
What do I do if I have a maintenance concern, like a clogged toilet, broken light, or heating issue?
If you have a maintenance concern, visit your local Residence Life office to fill out a maintenance request form. You can also use the regular service request procedures. If it’s an emergency, contact the Facilities Management & Planning Emergency Desk at 617-353-2105.
What exactly is Facilities? Which workers does that include?
Facilities is the department responsible for the care and maintenance of the buildings. Facilities staff includes mailroom workers, maintenance workers, custodians, grounds workers, and skilled trades employees.
When will the strike end?
It will end when both sides come to an agreement on a contract.
If there is a picket line in front of a building I am trying to enter or exit, what should I do?
Picket lines should not prevent you from entering or exiting a building. You can walk around them or use a different entrance. If a student encounters trouble getting through a picket line, they should call the Dean of Students office at 617-353-4126 or look for a University representative at the site. If you have difficulty leaving your residence, contact your local Residence Life office.
How will the strike affect non-striking BU employees?
All BU offices and buildings would remain open during the strike in accordance with their regular schedules. Managers should alert employees that they have the right to enter and exit buildings freely, without being blocked by picketers. Managers and non-striking employees should not confront or threaten reprisals against striking workers or their union representatives; managers should not question striking staff, promise them anything in return for coming back to work, or engage in surveillance of strikers.
If access in and out of buildings is blocked or if you are aware of acts of violence or trespassing by unauthorized employees, call the Boston University Police Department emergency line at 617-353-2121.
If custodians strike, will residence halls, offices, and classrooms be cleaned?
Student residence lounges and laundry rooms would be cleaned weekly or as staffing levels permit.
All dining halls, classrooms, restrooms, showers, and locker rooms will be cleaned and stocked daily. Trash in bathrooms and common rooms will be removed daily, but staffers with private offices are asked to place trash and recycling outside their offices when they leave for home; it will be emptied overnight. Classroom floors will be touched up as needed.
Common areas such as lobbies and entryways would be touched up as needed.
Corridors would be touched up, but washing/buffing would be infrequent. Offices would be cleaned weekly or as staffing levels permit.
Maintenance on all buildings would be done on call and would be prioritized.
On the Medical Campus, the Chequers L-basement, G-1, and L-1 Kiosk will be cleaned daily.
How will maintenance of laboratories be handled?
All labs would be cleaned daily, with red-bag waste removed and floors swept as needed. Floors will be touched up only as needed, although spills would be cleaned. Support equipment, such as vacuums, air systems, and R.O. water systems, would be available as usual. Dental bays at the Goldman School of Dental Medicine would be cleaned daily.
What if I have a facility-related emergency or want to arrange a cleaning or an event setup?
On the Charles River or Fenway Campus, report facility-related emergencies to 617-353-2105. For cleaning and setup requests, call custodial management at 617-353-2109.
On the Medical Campus, for facility-related emergencies, call the Control Center at 617-638-4144 or email email@example.com. The center is manned 24/7. For public safety problems, call 617-638-4444. For basic facilities information, such as the status of outstanding work orders, follow-up to scheduled work, or contacting a facilities person directly, call the Facilities office, 617-638-4211; the line will be covered from 8:30 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday. Requests for cleaning or event setups should be made to the custodial management staff at 617-638-5333.
Will custodial and trade workers be available for special events and specialty locations?
Yes. Workers will be available to set up special events, although the timing of the work may have to be arranged with event sponsors. Specialty care for facilities such as BU pools and ice rinks will continue as usual.
On the Medical Campus, specialty services for the Talbot Green and the Hiebert Lounge will continue.
How will University business–related mail be sent and received?
University Mail Services would be open during a strike from 1 to 3 pm Monday through Friday for departments to pick up their mail and drop off outgoing mail. If a US Postal Service driver refuses to cross a picket line, Mail Services managers will pick up the University’s mail and deliver any outgoing mail to Boston’s US mail facility.
All departments would be asked to pick up departmental mail daily and to drop off all outgoing mail during the Mail Services weekday operating hours. If anyone felt unsafe because of picket lines, mail could be dropped off and picked up at a specified, agreed-upon location. For more information, call Mail Services at 617-353-2156 for the Charles River Campus, the Fenway Campus, and the Medical Campus.
Departments sending out large mailings should call Mail Services at least one day in advance to arrange pickup; alternatively, the mail can be delivered to Mail Services during its operating hours.
Important and time-sensitive interdepartmental mail should be delivered by student or department staff couriers.
How would protests and demonstrations affect us?
You may see a variety of protests or picket lines on campus, but the University will be providing the same services as usual. You may not see your regular Facilities staff during a strike. For updates on the situation, read BU Today.