Pratt staff want a just contract

By Cindy Klumb

MORE THAN 50 workers and supporters of the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 153 rallied at the Pratt Institute on September 26 as part of "alumni weekend."

The clerical/technical academic and administrative support staff has been negotiating with Pratt since June. The Institute's latest offer was less per year than Pratt is paying their lawyer per hour.

In addition, Pratt is insisting on a five-year contract. The offer was preceded by Pratt saying "We want to offer you raises commensurate to what you do."

Pratt has hired Proskaurer-Rose (one of New York's largest anti-union law firms) to represent it against a union of 75 workers. Proskaurer-Rose represented the Metropolitan Transportation Authority against the New York transit workers. The human resources director is a lawyer. The question is why?

The offer shows a complete lack of respect for the role OPEIU members play in the everyday operations of the school. The clerical and technical staff deal directly with the students on a daily basis. The support staff assists the faculty and administration, and oversees the shops and labs.

In the 1990s, the clerical/technical workers sacrificed to help Pratt stave off bankruptcy. The union agreed to freezes of base pay and minimums, along with giving up benefits. Over a decade, the union lost an average of 25 percent in real wages. The union gained some ground in the last contract, but increases in health care contributions, transportation costs, housing, utilities and food costs have mitigated those gains.

Pratt is using the current economic downturn as an excuse for not offering the union decent raises. Their attorney points to the decrease in the value of the school's endowment as the reason, yet President Thomas Schutte, in a recent report to the Pratt community, wrote, "Pratt is not significantly dependent on it's endowment for annual operations." Enrollment remains high and tuition increases have offset any effects of the downturn on Pratt's bottom line. Pratt is economically sound.

The union decided to hold a rally during alumni weekend around the theme "Redefining the Good Life." Many members of the support staff are alumni, and the irony didn't escape them.

The top three salaries at Pratt total over a million dollars, with the president making over a half a million dollars a year. The union's entire payroll, meanwhile, is less than $2.5 million. Pratt is also currently spending $64 million to build a 120,000 square foot "green" building at 524 Myrtle Ave. that is being built by non-union workers and will be staffed by many of the union's members.

Signs like "The Good Life: What is That, I Don't Know, I Work at Pratt" and "We All Deserve the Good Life--Fight for a Living Wage" said it all. A large turnout allowed union members to hand out informational materials on their fight for a good contract to attendees as they arrived at various entrances to the campus.

Members were joined by representatives of the facilities and faculty unions who understand that "Pratt Works, Because We Do." The facilities union contract is expiring in October, and both unions are supporting each other in their contractual fights.

Last time around, the union was able to get a unanimous strike authorization from their members. The union was hoping it would not be necessary to threaten to shut the school down this time around, but will do whatever it takes to win a living wage.