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Demonstrators support labor unions

Aaron Steiner | Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Chanting “union welcome” and holding signs with messages saying, “the Pope loves unions, shouldn’t you?” over 30 supporters gathered for a demonstration and march Tuesday in support of University employees’ right to unionize.

The Campus Labor Action Project (CLAP) organized the event, which began at the steps of Main Building and marched to the Mason Services Center, where Building Services employees check in and out daily.

CLAP member Denise Pineda, a senior, said she hopes the event helped people become aware of workers’ problems should they try to unionize and support their choice of unionization.

“Personally, I want the workers to know they’re appreciated, and know they have support,” she said.

“If a union is what they want, let them know it’s their choice,” she said.

Senior Michael Angulo, an event organizer and member of CLAP, said that the demonstration and march were a result of the group’s continued discussions with employees and their fears of potential firings or other actions if they chose to pursue unionization.

“Every year we’ve gone to workers and see what their concerns are,” he said. Consistently, they are “feeling like no one is listening to them.”

In the months leading up to the demonstration Tuesday, CLAP members gathered around 500 signatures on union support cards. The signers “recognize and support the right of all employees of the University of Notre Dame to be represented by a union,” according to the cards.

During the demonstration, the cards were attached to a string that was held during the gathering on the steps of Main Building and during the march to the Mason Services Center.

The union support cards were delivered to the building manager at the Mason Services Center, who said he would hang them up in the building, according to Angulo.

In speeches on the steps of Main Building before the march, CLAP members and labor activists spoke about the necessity of unions on campus.

Senior Mary DeAgostino, a CLAP member, addressed the “increasing concern that their voices are not being heard.”

She also said that there is “a real fear of talking about unions” among employees.

DeAgostino said that the demonstration “shows workers … we will be there to support them.”

Paul Mishler, assistant professor of Labor Studies at Indiana University-South Bend, also spoke to the crowd.

Mishler suggested that if the University encountered financial problems related to the recession, Notre Dame employees could be the next to lose their jobs.

“Every institution is busy cutting wages, and cutting employees,” he said. “There is no guarantee that if there are cuts, it’s going to be done fairly.”

Caroline Domingo, communications director at the Institute for Latino Studies, also spoke.

In her 25 years at Notre Dame, she said she has seen many changes, but unionization is not one of them.

After recounting the stories of colleagues in Building Services who have suffered in the recent economic crisis, she shared an anecdote about the Tax Assistance Program offered each year by Accountancy students. The program helps low-income workers file taxes. Currently, those making less than $38,000 qualify as low income, according to Domingo.

She called the program “one of the best things about Notre Dame.”

“Except, a large number of Notre Dame employees qualify for that program,” she said. “A bit of a contradiction there.”

Domingo, who has been active in CLAP since its formation, later said that she has seen attempts at unionization stamped out before, including incidents in the 1970s.

Domingo said she would ask administrators to publicly acknowledge they cannot stop unions from forming.

“What I’d like them to do is to tell workers, go ahead, [unionize], this is up to you; this is a workers’ decision,” she said.

The University has long held the same position on unionization, which was reiterated in a statement by Executive Vice President John Affleck-Graves in April 2006.

“Notre Dame has long recognized the right of our employees to unionize if they wish, and has stated that if they do vote to have a union the University will bargain with it ‘in good faith,'” Affleck-Graves wrote.

Still, Domingo said she would like administration to more “benevolently” state that it is open to unionization.

One community member at the event said, however, that some workers on campus are already unionized. Troy Warner, a leader with the Electrical Workers Local Union No. 153, explained that approximately 150 electrical workers in his union are regularly contracted by Notre Dame.

He said that many people aren’t aware that some workers on campus are union members, and that the University does have a relationship with existing trade unions.

“Notre Dame has a great relationship with building trade unions, and they can continue that relationship with their own workers,” Warner said.

Warner said he wanted to “let the workers know that they are already unions on campus.”

Currently, an increasing number of University-employed workers have begun signing union cards, which signifies a desire to unionize, according to Angulo.

Angulo said that events like the one held Tuesday are a sign of solidarity and support for employees who might be considering signing a union card.

“We’re supporting the workers. If they want union cards, we support them,” Angulo said.