Union, U pleased by new contract

The deal includes extended step increases and changes to retirement benefits.

by Jessica Weaver

After months of negotiations and a 15-day strike, the new contract proposal before the University clerical workers unions would add about $250,000 to the workers’ settlement package, a union official said.

“The strike was definitely worth it,” said Phyllis Walker, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800 – the union representing about 1,700 University clerical workers. “The most important thing that’s come out of this strike is the empowerment clerical workers now feel as a result of standing together and fighting.”

The new contract proposal includes an extension of step increases – raises given on the anniversary of employment – and changes in the original contract’s language and retirement benefits.

Vice President for Human Resources Carol Carrier said the University is glad the two reached an agreement.

The settlement is within the University’s parameters, she said.

The new contract includes an extension of step increases through November. Those who do not receive step increases because the anniversaries of their employment fall between December and June will each receive a $300 lump sum to offset increased health-care costs. Step increases will resume in the contract’s second year, which begins in July.

All participants in the University’s health insurance plan receive a $200 employer contribution to health care in the contract’s second year. Co-pays on prescriptions and doctor visits remain the same as the original proposal.

Under the contract, the University will pay 90 percent of a single employee’s medical expenses in 2004-05.

For families, the University will cover 90 percent of medical expenses in 2004 and 85 percent in 2005.

The contract also reflects union members’ concerns about job security. The University changed contract language so a union member the University lays off can go into a University job at the same starting pay.

Employees already at the top of their pay scales will receive 4 percent across-the-board wage increases in the contract’s second year. These employees currently do not receive yearly step increases because they are at the top of their wage scales.

The “Rule of 75,” which Walker said is a disincentive for the University to lay off longtime employees, will continue through June 30, 2005, under the contract.

Under the Rule of 75, longtime employees are guaranteed health care until they are eligible for Medicare – even if they are laid off.

Walker said AFSCME Local 3801 – the union representing clerical workers at the Duluth campus – and Local 3800 are the only unions that have the “Rule of 75” as part of their contracts.

Union member Chris Backley, a University Relations information specialist said he participated in the strike and was pleased with the resulting agreement.

“I think it was realistic from what the University could offer,” Backley said. “I think it rewards the union members who have been there the longest. I think the ones at the top of the pay scale deserve the most.”

Ratification of the tentative agreement will be conducted by mail. Ballots will be mailed Friday, to be returned to the AFSCME Council 6 office by Dec. 1. If approved, the contract will go the Board of Regents for approval in December.