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UCPD unionizes

Officers of the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) voted to accept the terms of a collective bargaining agreement reached by their union, the Policemen’s Benevolent and Protective Agency (PBPA), and the University. The police officers voted on January 30, giving the PBPA the right to represent the University’s full-time and part-time police officers in negotiations with the University.

“In February 2000, the University was made aware of the policemen’s interest in becoming represented by PBPA,” said Sandra Bateman, the director of employee/labor relations at the University. “In March 2000, the police officer employees voted for such representation through an election process held by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The outcome of that vote resulted in a certification from the NLRB.”

“There were a lot of issues,” said Sean Smoot, chief legal counsel and spokesperson for the PBPA. “I think [the officers] saw themselves slipping further and further behind in terms of what others were making. There were issues with benefits that are standard for policemen, grievances that were not addressed by the University. For example, if an officer were suspended, there was no outside third party appeal.”

Ultimately, officers saw unionization as a way to help recoup some of the lost ground. “The officers themselves were overwhelmingly in favor of unionization,” Smoot said, “but the University resisted the idea. They hired an outside law firm to help them.”

Bateman characterized the law firm’s involvement as routine. “The decision to hire outside counsel for these negotiations followed the University’s tradition of using outside counsel in the construction of any initial bargaining unit agreement,” she said.

The finished agreement addresses several issues brought up by the officers, including the status of part-time workers, salaries, and outside appeal. “This…is a three-year agreement,” Bateman said, “and contains salary increases which are commensurate with the University’s guidelines.”

Both Smoot and Bates believe that the negotiations were fair and equitable. “The University believes the new agreement addresses the areas of importance to both parties and believes it to be a fair settlement,” Bates said.

“I would say [the officers] are satisfied, to a point; no one ever gets exactly what they want in these kinds of negotiations,” Smoot said. “They were good faith negotiations.”

—Raphael Satter