TEU farewells Shane Vugler.

Te Hautū Kahurangi | Tertiary Education Union is preparing to farewell Kaiwhakahaere | Organiser Shane Vugler, who will retire on August 1st following a mammoth contribution to the union movement over the past 40 years.

Shane started his first union job in 1985, as an organiser for the Northern Caretakers and Cleaners Union. His role, based in Hamilton, saw him responsible for organising 500 different workplaces from the Bombay Hills to Gisborne.

“Young and keen”, one of his early wins followed his discovery that the Hamilton Education Board had been short-changing workers on their hourly rates and conditions. The resulting settlement, between $20,000 and $25,000, was a lot of money at that time.

One of Shane’s proudest achievements came in the aftermath of a dispute at Hamilton’s Fairfield College where cleaning was contracted out and workers re-hired on lower terms and conditions of employment. This led to a campaign that eventually resulted in the fifth Labour Government amending the Employment Relations Act to require new employers to maintain workers’ terms and conditions when a business is sold or transferred.

Another of Shane’s important claims to fame is that he was the first union organiser in Aotearoa to negotiate a Multi Employer Collective Agreement (MECA) under the Employment Contracts Act – a draconian anti-worker law passed by the National government of the 1990s.

The agreement was necessary to ensure that cleaners would be paid 25% above the minimum wage at a time when unions were losing members hand over fist and workers were losing pay and conditions in the process. To get the settlement, many conditions had to be sacrificed and after all that the MECA only lasted 18 months due to the cleaning contracts being awarded to a new company that won them by not being party to the MECA.

Vui Mark Gosche, National Secretary of the Hotel, Hospital & Restaurant Workers Union and subsequently the Service and Food Workers’ Union during this period, describes Shane as “a senior leader, a good thinker, a forward thinker, and incredibly dedicated. He’s very forthright, never leaves you wondering, and if he thinks something’s not right, he will always tell you. I have always appreciated his honesty.”

In the new millennium, Shane was tasked with negotiating the first MECA in the public health system for cleaners, food workers, orderlies, and attendants previously covered by 35 separate collective agreements across 23 District Health Boards and four multinational cleaning and food service contractors.

The MECA, which is still in existence, delivered salary increases between eight and 28 percent. Shane says this was achieved without a single day of strike action due to the union’s ability to work closely with the Labour Government to hammer out a deal.

While reflecting on his past seven years with the TEU, Shane says the main area we need to improve on is our political activity. “My biggest learning from the past 40 years in the union movement is you achieve more for your members when you work with political labour than you do with industrial power. Only through cooperation between unions and political labour will we deliver a better Aotearoa and better working conditions for tertiary education.”

TEU Te Pou Ahurei | National Secretary, Sandra Grey, agrees Shane’s value to unionism and to TEU is in speaking his mind and calling out wrongs. “Shane has stood firm against injustices and I’m sure that will continue even into his retirement. I’m sure we’ll see him on picket lines supporting workers for many years to come.”