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New coalition for responsible hiring

This article was submitted by Keith Wrightson of the newly formed Responsible Employer Coalition.

An exciting new broad-based campaign is hoping to make UMass Amherst a model employer–not just for its own employees, but also for workers hired by contractors and subcontractors. The Responsible Employer Coalition, which includes all the major campus unions, numerous student groups, and Western Massachusetts building trades unions, has asked to meet with Chancellor Holub to discuss a draft Responsible Employer Policy and to urge its adoption.

The policy addresses wages, health and safety, diversity, environmental factors, dignity and union rights–in other words what it means to be a responsible employer in the 21st century.

Information about the coalition’s first major event can be found here: Coalition Rally.

The three main constituencies of the coalition have very different roles at the University, but share a common interest in seeing campus construction and renovation done in a high quality manner.

  • Students–who live and learn in buildings that are often not environmentally friendly, sometimes unhealthy, and at times downright shoddily built.
  • Staff and faculty unions–whose members work in those same buildings and who also want to be sure their own members are treated well and the collective bargaining process honored.
  • Building trades unions–who watch helplessly at times as they see unscrupulous contractors doing second-class work while exploiting their workforce.

This is a very positive campaign. It seeks some very positive commitments from the campus administration:

  • A commitment to environmentally-friendly practices in construction and renovation.
  • A commitment to employ more women, people of color, and residents of the surrounding area.
  • A commitment to abide by federal OSHA standards of safety and health for campus employees.
  • A commitment that contractors and subcontractors participate in registered apprenticeship programs.
  • A commitment to employ UMass staff whenever possible before contracting out work.
  • A commitment to being a responsible partner in collective bargaining and contract administration.

Developing the campaign has been a very inclusive process as the various groups met over a period of months, went through 16 drafts of a policy, learned each other’s perspectives and found common ground. The policy is modeled on “responsible contractor ordinances” passed by numerous cities and towns, but this effort is unique in how broad both the proposed policy and the coalition are. If successful, the coalition hopes a UMass Amherst policy could serve as a model for the other UMass campuses, and eventually other public employers around the state.

The theory behind the policy is simple: The University is the largest employer in western Massachusetts. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts and University of Massachusetts Amherst expend substantial funds for University public construction projects, which impact University employees, students, and the general public. It is therefore in the public interest, health, welfare and safety to ensure that the University will act responsibly when procuring outside contractors and in its dealings with University employees. The University must ensure that only law-abiding contractors perform work on University construction projects and that employees of such contractors are paid at the lawfully required prevailing wage rates; have been trained in bona fide state-registered apprenticeship programs; have hospitalization, medical and pension coverage; are provided industrial accident coverage; are properly classified as employees and not as independent contractors; are provided a safe and healthy workplace; and are properly trained and licensed for their position. Additionally, residents of Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties, and a diversity of people qualified by craft, should be part of and benefit from University public construction projects. Furthermore, the University must treat its employees and all who work on its campus with dignity and respect.

How You Can Help

  • Send in your stories about campus facilities that were poorly constructed or renovated or do not meet appropriate standards. You can email them to keithwrightson@msn.com.
  • Ask any organization to which you belong to endorse the campaign. It will then be invited to participate on the campaign steering committee. Endorsements can be sent to keithwrightson@msn.com.
  • Read the proposed policy at: http://conta.cc/o3VBiw.
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