NEWS

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November 2, 2007

Union negotiations reach new impasse

Campus Teamsters rejected the University’s most recent labor contract offer Tuesday despite a recommendation by the union’s negotiating committee that members vote to ratify it.

The 58 percent vote against the offer by campus clerical, service, and maintenance workers came as a surprise to administrators, who had expected the contract to be adopted following the nine-member committee’s eight-to-one decision in favor of ratification last week.

“I’m disappointed that the tentative agreement that we were led to believe was going to happen did not actually happen,” said Gwynne Dilday, associate vice president for human resources management.

The outcome was also a surprise to Local 743 negotiators.

According to Evelyn Steward, a member of the negotiating committee and an employee of the School of Social Service Administration, the decision was largely the result of unexpected efforts by previously supportive members.

Steward voted in favor of the contract last week and continued to encourage members to ratify it up until Tuesday’s vote, but some committee members vacillated on the issue, campaigning against the contract after initially supporting it.

“I’m a little angry because our committee did not stick together. I expected Gary to do what he was going to do,” Steward said in reference to Gary Mamlin, the committee member who initially rejected the contract and then campaigned vocally against it.

But the actions of other committee members took her by surprise. “If you say something, you stick with that. I stuck with that,” she said. “I don’t care if you vote no, but collectively we [the committee] shouldn’t have told people to vote no.”

Sidney Simmons, a committee member and lead housekeeper for Housing Services, changed his mind after voting in favor of the contract.

“If we can go back to the table and come to a conclusion, I’m willing to keep going,” Simmons said.

The fissures within the committee reflect the growing disagreement among its members over what they should demand of the University and the increasing frustration over the length of time that negotiations have dragged on.

In September, following months of negotiations, union workers overwhelmingly voted to reject the University’s final offer. It was the first time since the union’s formation on campus that a University contract has been rebuffed.

Mamlin, who has consistently advocated not settling for a contract that offered less than a 12 percent increase over three years, has asserted his determination to continue his efforts. He took up a megaphone during a protest in front of the Administration Building Wednesday, calling for an improved offer.

But Steward expressed apprehension over the potential outcome of further negotiations.

“We don’t know if it’ll make them [the administration] even angrier and take everything back…. This going back and forth with these pennies is kind of ridiculous. We need to make a decision,” she said. “I have a bad feeling about what might happen.”

Dilday’s response to the vote seemed to confirm that unease.

According to her, negotiators should not expect improved terms to result from future negotiations despite the requirement that negotiations proceed. “It’s just a process, and you don’t second-guess the process,” she said. But she indicated that the University was resolute.

“Quite frankly, that was our best offer,” Dilday said. “This was the best offer they’ve had in 10 years. It’s a fair offer….”

Despite the 16 percent margin by which the most recent proposal was defeated, low turnout nearly cost the union all its leverage. Only 540 of 1073 eligibile voters cast ballots at Tuesday’s vote. If fewer than half of all eligible members turn out, a clause in the Teamster Constitution requires a supermajority to reject the contract, so had fewer than 537 members turned out, the union would have been required to accept it despite the 58 percent majority vote against it.

The next negotiation meeting has not yet been scheduled.