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January 22, 2010

Admin seeks to end contract posturing, union skeptical

With union contract negotiations gearing up in an uncertain economy, University officials are hoping to pioneer “a new national model,” in which those at the bargaining table posture less and communicate more clearly.

The University’s current contract with Teamsters Local 743 expires February 28, and negotiations are underway. There are roughly 1,000 Teamsters who work in clerical positions on campus.

“I don’t view union negotiations as having to be contentious relationships. I think union and management can coexist nicely,” University Chief Financial Officer Nim Chinniah said. “It’s better if we work together with our goals being long-term sustainability, not just a three-year contract.”

The University sent a letter to Local 743 staff members to that effect in December. Written by Gwynne Dilday, associate vice-president for human resources, the letter asked that the union join the University in “a fresh approach to these discussions, to be open to a balanced process, and to move forward with a common purpose to sustain our University.” It referred to this approach as “a new national model.”

Teamsters representatives are skeptical, however, that the attitude will last when serious negotiating is underway.

“A letter is a letter, and that’s great,” union representative Joe Sexauer said. “It all depends on what happens at the table. It’s still [too] early in negotiations to say what this commitment means, and I look forward to seeing how it manifests itself.”

Sexauer said Teamsters were not opposed to the University’s forward-thinking view, but only as far as union jobs were protected.

“We look forward to working for the long-term health of our membership and the institution, and we believe that job security is an important part of the long-term health of our membership and the institution,” he said.

Teamsters and University negotiators may clash over bumping, a process by which one laid-off union member may take over the job of a more junior member in another department. This process, especially if it carries on for too long, can be disruptive for students and staff, Chinniah said.

“We spend a lot of time with deans calling us, saying, ‘What happened with Susie? Joe’s great, but he’s not friendly,’ because Joe’s not happy because he just got bumped,” Chinniah said.

However, Teamsters see bumping as an important part of guaranteeing job security for senior staff members.

“Long term employees, if laid off for no reason, need job security,” Sexauer said. “The idea is that if you’re loyal to the institution, the institution should be loyal to you.”