October 2, 2004

Local 743 negotiates with University on employment

Contract negotiations between Local 743, a group of clerical and service/maintenance employees on campus, and the University, remain at the discussion table to work to reach an agreement that will please all.

As an amendment to the Maroon article published on 09/18/04, the University has not proposed a wage reduction for the employees in Local 743, who belong to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

Despite a longstanding agreement not to talk to the press during negotiations, several union stewards have stepped forward to contribute their perspectives on the process. One of these stewards, Gary Mamlin, composed an e-mail in which he offered his own view of what the union wants, and the difficulties that continue to bog down the proceedings.

While making it quite clear that he could not be considered a spokesman for the union committee, Mamlin highlighted the issue of job security as the greatest obstacle between Local 743 and the University in reaching an agreement to renew the former's contract. "All of the discussions have been cordial, but when it gets to discussing layoffs, the University has reacted quite strongly," said Mamlin. "It seems to us," he continued, "That if there is a vacant position that a displaced worker can fill, then he should be given that post."

Mamlin noted that a job-protection clause had previously existed in Local 743's contract with the University from 1980 until 2000, and that the University evidently objects to "going backwards," with respect to reintroducing such a clause.

"The question should be whether the provision is reasonable or not, and not whether it has previously existed in the contract," said Mamlin in his e-mail.

Despite the centrality of the job security issue, Mamlin feels that the vast majority of his fellow employees are not aware of how little security they have.

In recent years, however, the number of displaced workers has relatively small. According to Chris Keeley, associate vice-president for human resources management, out of the 1,100 clerical and service/maintenance employees in Local 743, a total of 74 workers have been laid off in the last four years, with 22 workers laid off in the past year. Keeley feels that the University has been successful working with employees who, through no fault of their own, have been displaced. She cited the layoffs associated with the closing of the animal research labs in the Biological Sciences Department, stating, "The University worked with every single individual who was laid off."

Keeley noted that as a large and important employer in the Chicago area, it is extremely important for the University to cultivate a reputation as a good employer. "Such a reputation is necessary to attract and retain a skilled and enthusiastic workforce to support our world-class teaching and research missions," said Keeley. "It is thus in the interests of the University to support and assist all individuals who lose their position through no fault of their own."

The problem with the kind of job security clause advocated by Mamlin and his associates, according to Keeley, has two sides. Although the worker may be qualified on paper for a given position, once he has been displaced, often that worker finds that there is much to adjust to in a new workplace. Furthermore, it is sometimes difficult for a manager to know exactly what a new worker is capable of, if the manager has not been able to select the worker personally.

Keeley stated that both the University and Local 743 were in agreement about the importance of job security in the contract, only that the details have yet to be worked out. "We agree in the ‘what,' not the ‘how,' " she said. "Both sides are seeking the most efficient solution."

The University continues to respect the tacit agreement of not publishing the details of its opinion to the press. While several stewards from the union have come forth to offer their opinions, the University does not view this as a breach of the agreement, according to Keeley.

Keeley noted that in any such negotiation, there are competing interests on both sides. "What has come forth are the perspectives and priorities of certain individuals, they do not represent the official positions of either side," she said.

"It is the experience of others and it is also our own experience that the most effective and efficient way to reach agreements that both sides can live with is to keep the broader perspective, not allowing individual issues to divert from overall goals."