Workers at Saint Louis University rally in front of SLU President Fred Pestello’s office to demand fair contract


SLU JANITORS AND GROUND MAINTENANCE crew workers rallied in front of University President Fred Pestello’s office March 21 to demand a fair contract that gives the essential workers the raises they deserve. – Mike Marquardt/Teamsters Local 688 photo

St. Louis — Janitors and ground and maintenance crew workers represented by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1 at Saint Louis University (SLU) were joined by other union members and students at a rally on campus March 21 to demand a fair contract with better pay and job protections.

The workers rallied in front of the Busch Student Center, then marched through campus to SLU President Fred Pestello’s office demanding the university negotiate a fair contract.

The demonstration followed a similar action on March 7, when workers were joined by St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Megan Green as they sent a delegation to Pestello’s office.

“All we are looking for is a contract that values us and the work we do,” said Tommy Wessel, a longtime groundskeeper at SLU. “We come to work day in and day out to make sure Saint Louis University is a quality institution, and we want to keep doing so. But first we need a contract that reflects our importance to the university and one that will allow us to feed and take care of our families.”

Workers say the university is currently offering a four-year agreement that includes provisions on outsourcing work and insufficient wage increases, including a 50 cent per hour increase in the fourth year. Their previous contract expired in December.

Local 1 members say the university is going back on its word by not making the proposed raises retroactive. This is not only a money-saving tactic, the union says, but also an attempt to rush its essential workers into signing a contract that doesn’t give them the raises they deserve.

The union still had not heard from Pestello. He announced last week that he will step down as SLU president in 2025.

“We have been designated as essential workers but that is in name and responsibility only,” said Sonya Harris, a SLU custodian of 17 years.

Harris said she sometimes works two additional jobs to make ends meet. Today, she makes $15.45 an hour as a night worker, which is only $5 more than when she began in 2007.

“Our hard work and dedication at the university cannot continue to be the devalued,” Harris said. “We are here today to stand up for our rights as workers to not live with the fear of not knowing if today is the day that we will lose our jobs.”

SLU has record enrollment and an expected budget surplus of $250 million this year, Local 1 says, yet is demanding a four-year agreement with insufficient wage increases. Workers have overwhelmingly voted the university’s proposed contract down three times.

“These essential workers have been pretty clear about how they value themselves and their work, and how they expect to be valued,” said Chris Rak, SEIU Local 1 director for Missouri and southern Illinois. “These working people who ensure the university maintains the standards students and faculty expect and deserve a fair contract, and we hope the University can come to the realization that these workers deserve that.”

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