“Tentative agreement” reached in ongoing negotiations between College and housekeepers Union

By Jospeh Ostapiuk | Graduate Assistant | MolloyLife Media

Union Negotiations

Photo By: Gaetan Bastien | MolloyLife Media

Rockville Centre, N.Y. - A tentative agreement has been reached between Molloy College and the labor union SEIU 32BJ, who represents the college's housekeepers.

The agreement has come after an approximately-year-long negotiation between the two parties accelerated over the past two weeks.  

Molloy College's Assistant Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations, Ken Young, said that the tentative agreement is "awaiting approval from both sides."    

Michael Torres, the Vice President for Technology and Institutional Effectiveness at Molloy College, said that "We understood right from the outset that (the housekeepers) were part of Molloy, and part of the fabric of the community here."  

"This is a group of employees that work really hard," said Torres, who was integral in the negotiations on part of the College.  

The custodial staff made the decision to unionize approximately one year ago after workers approached SEIU 32BJ to improve wages and health benefits, according to Lenore Friedlaender, Assistant to the President of the Union.  

With wages that Friedlaender said were stuck "well below $15 an hour," the Union approached the College to negotiate a new contract after members of the custodial staff sent a petition signed by dozens of workers to the Office of President Drew Bogner on February 3, 2018.  

"In some cases, workers who had family coverage had to pay as much as $600 a month for health care, which translates to over $7,000 a year," Friedlaender said.   "Combined with low wages, that could be 25 percent of their pay," she said..

Union Negotiations

Photo By: Gaetan Bastien | MolloyLife Media

The college responded to the letter on April 12, 2018, recognizing that SEIU 32BJ would be representing the housekeepers, and notified the Union that Molloy College was eager to begin moving forward with negotiations.  

"The reason why we want a Union here is because of job security," said a custodian who wished to remain anonymous.  

"You can be terminated for whatever reason," the housekeeper said. "That's not job security, especially when you have a young family to take care of."  

In addition to concerns about job security, the worker said that wages and health insurance were major concerns.  

After calling 311, the housekeeper said that he discovered his wage prior to the agreement enabled him to be qualified for Medicaid, which is a program for New Yorkers who can't afford to pay for medical care.  

Where some of the housekeeper's coworkers have taken up a second job to compensate for wages, other custodians are unable to work another job because they have "young families" to care for, the housekeeper explained.  

Torres said that the College is "really attuned" to issues surrounding affordable health care for its employees and works off of a structure that allows lower-salary employees to pay less for insurance.

Photo By: Gaetan Bastien | MolloyLife Media

Despite an eagerness from both sides to negotiate a contract, bargaining initially moved slow.   "That process has had its ups and downs," Friedlaender said prior to a tentative agreement being reached.  

Friedlaender said that opening contracts with any new group represented by a Union typically take longer to complete. "We have to set the initial framework," she explained.

While Torres said that the College and Union negotiated throughout the past year on a mostly consistent basis, he added that there were "a lot of points to negotiate a long the way."  

In addition, the passing of Molloy College's CFO, Michael McGovern, in late 2018, also stymied the process, Torres said.  

The Union circulated petitions to students at the college during early February to offer support to the housekeeping staff.  

"This has been a situation where they felt loved, felt support," Friedlaender said.   "We're very appreciative," she commented.  

While the details of the agreement are not currently available, Friedlaender said that the Union does not expect to receive all of its negotiation requests.

"It's not going to be everything we could have hoped for," she said, "but it's not going to be everything the college could have hoped for either."  

Torres said that he believed that the two sides "came to an agreement that is fair," and expects the contract to be approved.   Torres said that his goal during the process was to get the contract "done right," not fast, and he believes that both sides are comfortable with the agreement moving forward.  

"We want a constructive working relationship with the college," Friedlaender said. "We want the college to understand that its lowest paid workers need to support families."  

A representative from the Union said that a ratification vote on Sunday, February 17th, would allow the College to enter the last stage of confirming a new contract.