U union members vote to accept contract deal

Jessica Thompson

The workers’ votes are in, and the University’s administration can breathe a temporary sigh of relief.

University technical, clerical and health care workers – one-third of the University’s 14,330 employees – voted this week to ratify their tentative 2001-03 contract agreements with the University’s administration. But some workers said the contract’s ratification was not a sign of approval.

Votes from the University members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 6 were counted Thursday evening, but tallies were not released.

Gladys McKenzie, chief negotiator for AFSCME Local 3800 – University clerical workers – said a large number of workers, unhappy with health care and wage provisions in the contract, voted to reject it and strike.

“This vote is not a vote of confidence for the University,” she said.

McKenzie said many workers qualified their “accept” votes with frowning faces and wrote on the ballots that they “accepted reluctantly.”

University workers said the recent strike of more than 23,000 state employees showed worker unity, but they said University employees are ill-equipped to strike.

“This was a very hard decision to make … there are so many single mothers with two kids who said, ‘How will I pay my mortgages and feed my family if we strike? I hate this contract, but what can I do?'” said Michelle Lamere, AFSCME Local 3800 vice president.

Lamere also said state strikers prepared for the strike for two years.

Jody Ebert, president of AFSCME 3937 – University technical workers – said the Sept. 11 attacks also injured the motivation to strike.

“The world is a different place now, and Sept. 11 is still affecting a lot of people …. People look for security, and it really forced people to prioritize their life,” Ebert said.

Members of the University administration were unavailable for comment Thursday evening. Earlier this week, human resources director Carol Carrier said increases in wages and an improved health care plan reflect the administration’s desire to help low-income workers.

The settlement includes a 3 percent wage increase for each year. It also expands health care benefits for same-sex domestic partners to include health, dental and life insurance.

The contract raises minimum wage to $12 per hour for employees who work at least 20 hours each week. While the increased raise is considered a union victory, many are concerned it won’t benefit the University’s long-term employees.

Some union members also criticized increased co-pays under the University’s newly instated health care plan.

“We’re going backwards in salary because of health insurance. The wages just don’t keep up with these increasing costs,” said Phyllis Walker, AFSCME Local 3800 president.

Lamere said the union will focus on strike training to prepare for contract negotiations in 2003.

“It’s time to start saving pennies and nickels for two years down the road. It’s going to have to be pennies and nickels because that’s all our membership can afford,” she said.

The Board of Regents votes on the contract agreement next week.

 

Jessica Thompson welcomes comments at [email protected]