NEWS

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January 26, 2010

Teamsters discuss University overtures in contract talks

Campus Teamsters met to discuss ongoing negotiations with the University Monday, a month before their three-year contact is set to expire.

Joe Sexauer, the Local 743 representative who ran the meeting, told the 40 or so members that the University was willing to give specific deadlines for when grievance hearings can be heard; currently, grievance hearings can last for months or years.

Sexauer said there have been no changes to the contract’s language on bumping, a process by which senior union members, if fired, can stay employed by taking the spot of a more junior member in another department. Sexauer said bumping offers job security to long-term employees. He also said the salary and benefit portion of the contract, which is being still negotiated, would be a major point of the talks.

Last week, University representatives said they were hoping negotiations would take a more cooperative tone than they have in the past—negotiations once dragged on for over a year—but members of the negotiating committee said the University had yet to demonstrate a commitment to that proposal at the bargaining table.

“I think bargaining is going the way it usually does. The University so far is not any more intransigent than they’ve been in the past, but we’ve detected no gestures on their part” to follow through with last week’s proposal, Teamsters negotiator and Regenstein acquisition assistant Gary Mamlin said at the meeting.

Melanie A. Cloghessy, a clerical worker in the Humanities Department, echoed a sentiment expressed by other union members and negotiators—that negotiations haven’t gone on long enough for a new attitude to show itself—but suggested the gesture was an important step forward.

“I don’t think there’s been enough time for them to act in better faith yet, but the fact that they’ve been making public statements to that effect is hopeful, and we’ll have to take them seriously,” Cloghessy said in an interview. “Not because we believe them, but because that would be the proper thing for them to do. It’s what the law requires, and so we need to require it of them.”

E. Gwynne Dilday, associate vice president of human resources and a negotiator for the University, said in a phone interview that the University is following through with its promise: “We have certainly been communicating with employees about where we are. We’ve only sent one letter out to union members, and I know we will be sending out more letters. That’s what we are trying to achieve when we are talking about transparency.”

The union has shown its strength in previous negotiations, Cloghessy told the audience, and hoped Teamsters could show their resolve sooner in the process than they’ve done in the past.

“The University, until the last contract campaign, expected us to be indifferent and quiet. I think they were shocked when we voted down the contract [three years ago], and really shocked when we voted it down twice,” she said at the meeting. “We can all be very sure the administration knows how many people are in the room, and that changes how they negotiate.”

The Teamsters discussed holding a rally in February, but members were concerned that their message would not come across properly and insisted they make realistic demands, “for the health of the [entire] University,” one woman said.

Members agreed a rally should be more creative than others had been in the past, and that they should demand things other than preserving their salaries, like cutting wasteful spending. Examples brought up were plans for heat and electricity expenditures, new SUVs purchased by the UCPD, and President Robert Zimmer’s salary.

Joe Pellettiere, a faculty assistant at the Law School, said he came to the meeting to make sure the union got a good contract “before the economy collapses.” He said he was worried the University might make use of ambiguous wording in the contract to find ways to save money, at union members’ expense.

“This is a real crucial one this time,” he told Sexauer, who agreed.