Workers tally strike gains and losses

by Jessica Weaver

More than two weeks after the end of the first labor strike at the University in almost 60 years, union members have mixed opinions about whether the two weeks of lost pay was worth the union’s contract gains.

While University officials said the same amount of money went toward the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800’s contract as other University unions that did not strike, union officials said the union gained $250,000 from the University with the contract’s changes.

But the striking clerical workers – who numbered 857 on the strike’s first day and dropped to 653 on the strike’s last day – lost an estimated $894,000 collectively.

The estimation is based on an average hourly wage of $15, an eight-hour workday and the number of clerical workers who did not come to work during each day of the 15-day strike.

AFSCME Locals 3800 and 3801, the unions representing about 1,900 clerical workers on four University campuses, went on strike Oct. 21 after contract negotiations with the University failed.

Union and University officials differed on whether the union’s negotiated contract was worth more because of the strike.

Steff Yorek, a member of AFSCME Local 3800’s negotiating committee, said the union received about $250,000 more in its new contract.

But University Vice President for Human Resources Carol Carrier said all four labor unions at the University – AFSCME Locals 3800, 3260 and 3937 and Teamsters Local 320 – received the same amount of money distributed in different ways.

And union members differ on whether the contract gains – perceived or real – were worth the lost wages.

Union member Marlene Parkhurst said the new contract was worth the strike.

“I think it was definitely worth it because we gained a lot of respect. I think we made as much gains as we could,” Parkhurst said.

Other union members disagree.

Anthony Reel, a non-voting member of AFSCME Local 3800, said the union did not make gains in many of the issues that caused them to walk out such as health care, yearly wage increases and step increases.

“When I saw the proposal I started laughing because it was a step back in many points,” Reel said.

Reel said the union ended up trading yearly wage increases for step increases in the second year of the contract. Many of the gains the union made affect a small percentage of people, Reel said.

Under the tentative agreement reached during the strike, step increases – pay raises on the anniversary of employment – continued for three more months during 2003. Union members whose anniversary of employment does not fall within those months will receive $300 each in January for health care.

In the contract’s second year, the union’s members currently at pay range maximum will receive 4 percent pay increases, while the other members will receive step increases. The University will contribute $200 per worker to health care in the second year.

All of the University’s unions were allowed a $200 lump sum per member for health-care costs and a payroll increase of 2.5 percent over the next two years. Each union distributed the same amount of money differently, Carrier said.

Sue Mauren, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 320, the union representing 1,400 University custodial, maintenance and food service workers, said each of the union contracts has basically the same economic package.

“Everyone packaged that contract differently based on the needs of their own membership, so the contract packages are all very different,” Mauren said.

Some of the contract language changes AFSCME local 3800 had to fight for were already in the Teamsters Local 320 contract, Mauren said.

“The AFSCME local that went out on strike achieved some contract language that we have had in the beginning of our contract history,” Mauren said.

One of the changes to AFSCME Local 3800’s contract was a provision requiring that union members who are laid off and rehired by a different University department be rehired at the same salary.

AFSCME Local 3800 members currently serve a six-month term of probation upon entering a new job within the University where they can be dismissed without reason, Yorek said.

The Teamsters Local 320 contract already requires that members be rehired at the same salary within the University, be given hiring priority over non-University employees and not receive probation upon entering a new job within the University in most cases.

Still, AFSCME Local 3800 is the only union at the University to retain the Rule of 75, which guarantees longtime employees health care until they are eligible for Medicare if they are laid off. The rule serves as a disincentive for the University to lay off longtime employees.

The University is phasing the rule out of its labor contracts, Carrier said.

Erik Jensen, Teamsters 320 steward in the housing department and bargaining committee member, said AFSCME Local 3800 clearly made gains in the tentative agreement. Jensen said no other AFSCME unit has same-wage rehire within the University and the longtime worker health-care protection. AFSCME Local 3800 made language gains the Teamsters union already has, Jensen said.

Language gains made by AFSCME Local 3800 bring other unions up, Jensen said.

“The seniority provisions we have we want to make standard for everyone so we’re not the only group with a seniority system,” Jensen said.

Still, Jensen said the gains could have been greater.

“The gains that AFSCME made were limited by the fact we all should have gone out at the same time,” Jensen said.

The 15-day strike ended when the University and the union reached a tentative agreement Nov. 4, following negotiations that lasted all night.

Union leaders said the tentative agreement will likely not be ratified until the beginning of December. The new contract includes changes in the way wage increases and health-care lump sums are distributed.