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October 26, 2007

Workers to vote on contract

After months of bargaining, the union committee negotiating a new labor contract for campus clerical and maintenance employees decided Wednesday to accept the University’s most recent wage offer and recommend it for ratification to voting members.

The proposed contract is a slight improvement over the offer that campus members of Teamsters Local 743 overwhelmingly rejected last month, but it still falls short of the four-percent annual increase demands that had previously served as the union’s rallying cry.

Under the proposed contract, clerical workers will receive a three-percent wage increase retroactive to March—when their current contract expired—followed by two two-percent increases in 2008 and a 3.5-percent increase in 2009. Clerical workers will also receive a $175 bonus this December. The offer amounts to a 10.5-percent increase over three years compared to the 10-percent offer rejected on September 24.

The proposed contract for service and maintenance workers will provide a $.45 increase the first year and a $.40 increase each of the next two years. The contract also provides for upgrades in the position of lead service and maintenance workers. They will not, however, receive the December bonus.

Union and committee representatives are distributing information about the contract to all voting members on campus. The ratification vote is scheduled for Tuesday in Crerar Library.

Sources would not confirm the final tally, but the majority of the nine-member committee representing the union in the negotiations voted to adopt and recommend the offer after it became clear that the University was not willing to offer further increases, said Evelyn Steward, a committee member and employee of the School of Social Services Administration.

“It was just frustrating. We don’t want these members to get less than what they were asking for,” Steward said. But, she added, most of the committee members agreed that further improvements to the offer were unlikely.

“We felt there was nothing more to do. We felt it was a dead end,” she said. According to Steward, the consensus among most of the members was, “We’re not gonna get past this. They’re gonna keep coming back with this [offer].”

Gary Mamlin, a committee member and Regenstein Library employee, voted against adopting the contract.

“I voted not to accept the offer because the members had overwhelmingly indicated that they wanted four percent a year,” Mamlin said. “I feel confident that the University was capable of paying more.”

Mamlin said he is letting union members know that he is opposing the offer’s ratification.

Among his qualms over the committee’s decision to adopt the contract, he said, was the exclusion of the union’s service and maintenance workers from the bonus that clerical workers will receive this year.

“I do not know why the University would not include the service and maintenance people in the $175 bonus payments nor why the committee agreed to that…. My view is that as a matter of principle, in recognition of the fact that all of the workers here deserve equal respect, they should have been included,” Mamlin said in an e-mail.

According to Gwynne Dilday, associate vice president of University human resources management, the negotiations for the service and maintenance workers had concluded before the bonus was offered as part of the clerical workers’ contract.

She hopes that the union members will vote to ratify it next week.

“I feel that it is a fair contract. It seems to me that pretty much all of the committee was in support of it,” she said.

If the contract is rejected Tuesday, negotiations would resume, Dilday said.

Last month, union members voted 533–47 to reject the final offer that University lawyers presented following months of negotiations. Given only two days to decide on the offer, many members were disheartened by what they viewed as an act of bad faith by administrators. The rejection was the first in the union’s three-decade history on campus.

The potential ratification of the contract next week also throws into doubt plans for a student protest in support of workers scheduled for Wednesday.

Alex Moore, co-chair of Students Organizing United with Labor (SOUL), the group planning the event, said that if the contract is approved Tuesday, “presumably, there wouldn’t be anything to protest.”