After four months of bargaining, approximately 30 trips to the negotiating table and 22 straight hours of negotiating, the University and the American Federal State, County and Municipal Employees unions finally went home satisfied.
Both sides went into negotiations on the morning of Nov. 22 and did not leave with a tentative agreement until the next morning.
Jennifer Lovaasen, AFSCME Council 5 communications director, said the union representatives will recommend that their members accept the University’s offer.
“The pivotal moment was when the University bargaining team put the steps back into the union workers’ contracts,” she said.
Steps are salary increases an employee receives for each year of seniority.
Lovaasen said the vote to ratify the contract is pending.
“We’re still ironing out the details of what the University is offering us in our final agreement,” she said.
Lori Vicich, director of communications in University Human Resources, said the University cannot comment “entirely” on the details of the changes in the unions’ contract.
Vicich said that in this round of negotiations, the University’s 2 percent wage increase proposal remained.
“The major change in the contract was allowing the clerical unit to have fixed step increases with fixed salary grids,” she said.
Vicich said a settlement was timely because with a contract, union members can now register for medical and dental benefits.
She said the University was very pleased with the settlement.
“We’re happy we were able to offer fair and equitable cost parameters and across-the-board wage increases between employee groups,” she said.
Candace Lund, AFSCME Local 3937 president, said union members have mixed feelings about the settlement.
“Some members were disappointed that the unions are not continuing to fight for higher wage increases,” she said. “Others were glad to finally be finished negotiating with the University.”
Lund said many union members are planning for their wage increases and registering for their health benefits.
She said the union representatives still need to inform their members about the University proposal, which could go into January.
The unions gave up on negotiating their wage increase proposal and focused on step increases for the clericals unit.
“We still wanted larger wage increases, but the University just would not budge,” she said. “It was in the interest of our members to try and settle.”
Lund said AFSCME union representatives got to a point where they couldn’t squeeze any more money out of the University, even though they thought there was more available.
“You move on in life and fight another day,” she said.
Mike Morrell, AFSCME Council 5 associate director, said he cannot release all the details of the contract until all members are informed.
“In general, I know that people are pleased to finally reach a settlement,” he said. “This was an extremely difficult battle.”
Morrell said that this year, there was a real pent-up demand by the unions.
“We’re talking about people who just came off a strike, people who sense the need for help recovering from those strikes and people who are suffering from health care (cost) increases,” he said.
He said the joint effort of the technical, medical and clerical units was what paid off in the end.
“I hope we get beyond this and look at ways to begin working on a better employee/employer relationship,” he said.
Morrell said the bureau of mediation stressed improving the working relationship between the two parties, and both the University and AFSCME union members were interested.
Lovaasen said the whole negotiations process is all “really” amazing.
“There is a lot of divide and conquer mentality by the (University President Bob) Bruininks administration, but the unions banded together,” she said.
“Throughout the entire process, the unions said to one another, “Hey I’ll stand with you,’ ” she said.
Barbara Bezat of Local 3937 said, “It’s about time. We fought a long and hard continuous battle.”
Bezat said she applauds the AFSCME unions’ tenacity.
“It’s all very heartening to have seen all three unions hold off the worst of take backs from the University and get through with a settlement,” she said.
“When people look back at this battle between the University and the AFSCME union, they will remember the solidarity.”