U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders continued a speaking tour of the Granite State last weekend stumping for President Barack Obama, making stops in Keene, Claremont, Concord and at Dartmouth University in Hanover. At the Dartmouth stop, Sanders was joined by students and members of SEIU 560, the Service Employees of Dartmouth College.
The SEIU 560 contract expired on July 1, and it’s been extended twice so far as negotiations continue. Chris Peck, the vice president of SEIU 560 and a painter at the college for 22 years, said the Sanders campaign had reached out to see if there was interest in a stop at the college.
“We used it as an opportunity (to get our members out) because we’re having tough negotiations,” Peck said, so the event became “a mix of an Obama rally and a fair contract rally.” It also didn’t hurt, he said, that the college’s trustees were in town that weekend.
“They’re trying to balance budgets on the backs of the workers,” Peck said. “They’ve attacked our healthcare and passed on huge cost shifts.”
“We’re hoping the college digs a little deeper and can give us something fair,” Peck said.
Peck said that while student support hasn’t been as strong as he would have liked, there is a core group of students that call themselves “Students that Stand with Staff.”
Cheryl Towne, stock control supervisor at the Glencliff Home for the Elderly and a member of SEA/SEIU 1984, attended the rally in support of SEIU 560.
Towne said the speakers were impressive.
“The students are behind the laborers down there and they brought up some pretty good facts that blew my mind,” Towne said.
Labor lawyer Jake Krupski told the crowd that in 2009, the college’s endowment lost 23 percent of its value, and the college announced $100 million in budget cuts; hundreds of employees were eventually lost through attrition and layoffs.
Since that time, SEIU 560 workers have seen their pensions slashed, no pay raises, and fewer insurance benefits for more money, despite the fact that the college has seen its net assets increase by $600 million in that time. Add to that physical growth at the college, including $40 million in upgrades to the college-run Hanover Inn. All the while, the number of non-union employees has grown by 3 percent since 2009.
This hacking away at workers’ rights fit well with a central tone of Sanders’ tour through New Hampshire. In an interview with the Portsmouth Herald previewing his visits, Sanders, an independent from Vermont, took aim at the slash-and-burn politics of the Mitt Romney campaign.
“The idea of making drastic cuts to senior programs including Medicare, and to Medicaid, and giving huge tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans, is in my mind not only immoral, it’s bad economic policy,” he said. “I am a very strong advocate for grass-roots politics, and I want to talk about these issues in more than 30-second sound bites.”
Frank Marcelleno said he was at an earlier union event in Hanover but heard Sanders speak at a rally later in the day in Concord. Marcelleno said the senator didn’t sugarcoat things.
“There was nothing terribly encouraging about what he said,” Marcelleno said. “The guy is a terrific voice for the middle class, and the poor as well.”
“He’s very dynamic and he didn’t want to paint a rosy picture, and he did not,” he said.
If you missed Sanders last week, you can hear him speak at a free brunch event at 10 a.m. Saturday in Portsmouth.