AU’s staff union announces strike ahead of first week of classes
‘We are at the end of the rope with the administration’
On Thursday, members of American University’s Staff Union announced they are planning a strike to protest what they alleged were unfair labor practices by the University.
In a press release, members of the staff union, which is part of Service Employees International Union Local 500, announced that they will strike from August 22-26, “in response to the administration’s decision to deny union members regular annual raises.” The union has also filed an Unfair Labor Practice Charge against the University with the National Labor Relations Board.
Sam Sadow, Visual Resources Curator at American University & SEIU Local 500 Member told The Eagle that the union and the University tentatively agreed on certain issues such as health and safety and job security concerns, but when it came to wages, fell short of the union’s demands.
“We are at the end of the rope with the administration,” Sadow said. “We’ve made good progress on several important issues for AU staff … But now we are talking about the all important issues of economics with the administration, and we’ve been at the end of our rope.”
According to the press release, the decision to strike was made when the University’s proposal for wage increases withheld raises from unionized staff members, as well as striking in recognition of the union’s work in securing a fair contract. Over 500 staff members from the Provost’s division and the Office of Enrollment are part of the union, and 91 percent voted in favor of the strike.
“SEIU Local 500 has proposed a 9% salary increase over a two-year contract with additional increases based on years of service. The proposals ensure that no full-time staff member earns less than $40,000 annually and establishes yearly raises for part-time staff,” the email said.
Union members said that the proposal the University gave for merit increases was identical to previous years.
In the press release, Aubrey Hill, a systems administrator in the AU Career Center, said that “American University’s claim that embedding this year’s merit increase as part of a larger compensation package makes it distinct, and thus justifies excluding unionized workers, defies logic.”
Despite the merit increase process being the same as previous years, the University still denies wage raises; this, Hill said, is an illegal change in working conditions.
“Once a union is formed, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) requires that the university must bargain over the terms and conditions of employment, which include wages and compensation. Therefore, the university cannot unilaterally change union employees’ wages, including positive changes to the compensation framework, until an agreement is reached," Matthew Bennett, AU's vice president and chief communications officer said in an email to The Eagle, in response to the union’s claim that wage increases were being withheld.
“The University has been uniformly unsupportive of our demands, and resistant to coming to the table, and negotiating with us to find solutions to the issues that led to the staff unionizing in the first place,” Sadow said.
Bennett said that the University was negotiating in good faith with the union, including taking part in scheduled bargaining sessions.
“We have resolved numerous issues for this initial contract and continue to offer proposals on the outstanding items. The university respects the right of employees to organize to form a union and to engage in related protected activity in accordance with applicable law,” he said. “While the union has voted to authorize a strike, negotiations continue and a strike is not a certain outcome. We are committed to reaching a final agreement.”
The staff of the Provost’s division and the Effice of Enrollment voted to unionize with SEIU Local 500 in November of 2020.
The strike reflects a demand for fair pay that reflects the value of staff members’ work, and “keeps us and our families safe and healthy,” Mirashaye Basa, a Circulation Specialist in Bender Library, said in the press release.
Pia Morrison, President of SEIU Local 500, said in the email that employment culture at AU needs to change, following a high staff turnover and an active Fair Labor Standards Investigation with the NLRB. Changing this culture “starts with paying workers equitably,” she said.
In regards to his expectations for the strike, Sadow told The Eagle that he is optimistic that it will put pressure on the University to listen to what the union is asking for.
“I am hopeful that their reaction will be to choose to come back to the bargaining table with real solutions that give AU staff the fair wages and affordable healthcare that they deserve.”
Nina Heller contributed to the reporting of this story.
This is a developing story and will be updated with more information as it becomes available.