January 11, 2008

University, union reach new contract

After nearly a year of impasse-ridden negotiations between University employees and administrators, campus workers represented by Teamsters Local 743 have accepted a three-year labor contract that offers a slight improvement over previous University offers but falls short of the four-percent annual wage increases that had become the union’s hue and cry.

The contract, approved December 21 by a vote of 439 to 106, will provide campus clerical workers a three-percent wage increase retroactive to March, when the current contract expired, along with a $175 bonus. They will receive two two-percent increases in 2008 followed by a 3.5-percent increase plus a $100 bonus in 2009. The contract amounts to a 10.5-percent increase plus $275 over three years.

The contract that union members rejected in October provided a cumulative 10.5-percent increase plus $175, which was an improvement over the cumulative 10 percent offered by the first contract that union members voted down in September.

Service and maintenance workers represented by the same union will receive a 45-cent-per-hour increase retroactive to March 2007, followed by a 40-cent increase in March 2008 and a 40-cent increase in March of next year plus a $100 bonus.

In a press release posted by Students Organizing United with Labor (SOUL), the main student organization supporting the union’s efforts, one University employee and organizer credited the outspoken campaign with bringing about the improved offer while still deriding the University for falling short of the four-percent demands.

In the weeks leading up to the October vote, there had been considerable disagreement among members of the union’s negotiating committee about whether or not the voting ranks should accept the contract offer. Several of the negotiating members dropped support for the offer after initially endorsing it, and it was narrowly defeated.

At the time, Gary Mamlin, a Regenstein Library employee and negotiating committee member who was credited by some on the committee with changing sentiment about the offer, expressed a desire to stay resolute in his demands for a four-percent annual increase.

Weekly protests continued, but the University administration maintained its determination to stand by its most recent offer, stating publicly that employees should not expect an improved offer.

Late last month, after further negotiations, the University made a renewed offer that the negotiating committee presented to the voting body and that was ultimately approved.

Considering the union’s demands, the approved three-year contract represents a total improvement of just $100 over the previously rejected offer, but its passage may have reflected the growing realization among members that further improvements were unlikely.

“As I stated all along, we felt that the financial offer was a really good contract. We were just really pleased that the union on this go-around supported what it said it was going to support…. We made that small concession and luckily, happily the union was willing to accept that,” said Gwynne Dilday, associate vice president for University human resources management.