Staff union bargains for fair treatment

ORACLE PHOTO/ WESLEY HIGGINS

Tensions arose over disparity in treatment between university staff and faculty at the collective bargaining meeting Thursday, as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union presented its proposals to university officials for the 2014-15 contract.

Hector Ramos, AFSCME chief negotiator, said the proposals were about common respect for the 1,700 custodians, maintenance and non-administrative staff that the union represents. 

The first proposal allows USF’s AFSCME President Susie Shannon eight hours of her 40-hour workweek to focus on union business.

John Dickinson, chief negotiator for the university administration, said he was skeptical about whether the university should pay for Shannon to handle union business while on the university’s clock. 

“Basically the person would be working for 32 hours and getting paid for 40,” Dickinson said. 

Ramos said if USF allows the USF president of United Faculty of Florida (UFF) 10 hours a week, it is only fair to give the AFSCME president eight. 

“You got to remember that when a union official is working on an issue for a worker, they are also working on an issue for the university to resolve a conflict,” Ramos said. 

Another proposal would allow AFSCME representatives to sign grievance forms on behalf of staff who complain. The employee must provide a signature before the grievance continue, further into the legal process.

Ramos said the staff union takes time to investigate and evaluate grievances, and once that investigation is finished, it is sometimes difficult to coordinate with the complainant.

“The person may work nights, they may work weekends,” he said. “For x amount of reasons we may not get the signature. We’re asking for the same courtesy you give UFF. Let us file the complaint, and we’ll get you that signature by step two.”

Dickinson said he was concerned this would allow AFSCME to file grievances without proof of employee consent. 

“You’re going to have to take our word for it,” Ramos said. “If there’s no degree of trust, then why are we sitting across the table? You trust faculty with this clause, but you don’t trust us?”

AFSCME further proposed that, in the event of grievances receiving arbitration, each party would split the arbitration cost. Currently, the cost of arbitration falls to the party that lost in court, unlike the UFF contract.

Dickinson said different unions contracts should be taken as individual collections of compromises.

“Those contracts were negotiated with a whole bunch of other things over years,” he said. “You’re taking the good and not the bad. As my mother used to say, ‘you’re cherry picking.’”

Ramos said the staff union shouldn’t turn away justifiable complaints because they cost money.

“When (USF) decides to take disciplinary action against an employee, you already have all your ducks lined up,” he said. “We start from behind the eight ball, trying to put our stuff together. Not only don’t we have the time, but we don’t have the deep pockets you have.”

Dickinson defended the article as it stood and said it incentivizes the union to file only justifiable grievances with a probable chance of winning.

“You want to make sure that the parties evaluate the merits of the dispute before they take it all the way,” he said. “Because they know if they don’t evaluate something properly, they could end up paying … It makes you that much more careful before pressing and going through that expensive process if there is a risk of cost.”

Ramos disagreed. He said it was offensive to infer the union would become careless in the grievances they filed just because they wouldn’t have to pay the full cost of arbitration.

Ramos also proposed that staff have the same policy for worker’s compensation as faculty, incase an employee sustains a job-related injury.

“I don’t want to gauge which of your workers have more dangerous jobs,” Ramos said. “But at least all your employees should be treated the same.”

The last proposal debated at Thursday’s meeting was a clarification AFSCME representatives asked be put in the contract, making it punishable for a supervisor to publicly embarrass an employee and force reprimanding to be conducted in private. 

“The supervisors need to get that they have to treat their employees with respect,” Ramos said. “If they need to discipline them, pull them aside and discipline them, don’t do it in public.” 

Ramos said staff members have issued several complaints against supervisors from the Marshall Student Center, Physical Plant and College of Education.

But when Dickinson asked for concrete examples and names, Ramos said the burden of investigation should fall on USF administration.

“That’s what bargaining is all about, it’s about sharing information to give rationale for a proposal,” Dickinson said. “It’s your choice.”

Ramos said the union was hesitant to name supervisors, in case of retaliation against their employees. 

“It should be sufficient enough to you that this is enough of an issue that I put it on the table,” he said.

Dickinson said the university assures protection for its employees and will not tolerate retaliation. 

Other proposals included a 5 percent raise and a limit on parking fees, which are higher for staff than for students. 

The only proposal agreed upon is that the university would explore tuition assistance for the spouses and children of bargaining members. 

The bargaining will resume Sept. 25 at 1 p.m. in the Student Services building.

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