While the prices of such necessities as gas and milk have been steadily rising over the past few years, hundreds of USF employees have not been given raises that would counteract national inflation.
Blame the recession, blame the government, but mostly blame the lack of a contract between USF and the University Support Personnel System employees.
The USPS employees have been working without a contract since Jan. 2003, when their last contract expired. Most USPS employees are not aware of the existence of the union or the potential of worker representation in negotiating a new one.
When he began work at USF in July 2000 as a shuttle driver, Eugene Hebert had no idea a union represented him.
“I had no indication that a union even existed,” Hebert said. “After several months of asking a number of people if the place had a union when I heard people complain, they said, ‘No, I never heard of no union.'”
When the State University System relinquished governance over workers to USF, the Board of Trustees decided that campus unions were no longer recognized. While the University Police and faculty have both reestablished union representation, the USPS employees are only now about to make that decision through an election.
“The (old) contract was held (under) the SUS,” said Sandy Lovins, director of Human Resources. “As (USF) became more independent (from the state), USF became the employer.”
If the employees elect the union to represent them during collective bargaining, it is the union who negotiates the terms of the contract such as raises, benefits and rights and makes sure all the terms are recognized by USF.
“The contract is a piece of paper, it won’t really reinforce itself. You have to have human beings as union members making sure the contract is being adhered to by management,” said Bill McClelland, president of the local section of the union.
Hebert believes that having a union will protect employee rights. When the union was still recognized by USF, Hebert was accused of being an “unbecoming USF employee” over a minor dispute. When, through the union, he appealed the verdict all the way to Tallahassee, the decision was upheld and he was placed on two-year probation.
“It was a way to shut me up,” he said. “(The department supervisors) mentioned to me (that) change takes time. It’s close to three years and things have not gotten better.”
Hebert said a union is exactly what employees need.
“People are more disgruntled than ever,” he said. “We’re at the mercy of the university — especially for the last two years, since the union has been ousted. (Now, the union) would have more backing from the USPS people on campus after having the last two years to see exactly how they’ve been treated.”
During the time of his probation, Hebert did what he would every day, whether under a close watch or not: showed up to work 20 minutes early, kept a good driving record and made his routes on time. Because of his safety, he was even entrusted with the newest shuttle bus the department acquired.
“I was told by the head of my department I received the newest vehicle because they knew I would take care of it, that I was a good driver; yet my (annual) evaluation was only reflected as effective,” Hebert said. “When I questioned, I was told that everyone was only effective. That’s all they got.”
After the raises were distributed on Aug. 7, Hebert received no compensation because his evaluation wasn’t high enough.
“I was out with my leg for a month. I happen to come back two days after the raise was supposed to go in effect, and I didn’t see it. But I had a $15 (decrease in net pay) because my life insurance went up because I turned 55,” he said. “I didn’t get a raise and I’m taking $15 less again this year; every year I’m going backward.”
After the lack of raise, Hebert decided that insurance was too expensive and is now without it.
He said if the union was representing the USPS employees, no one would be left without a raise.
“Before, everybody was getting (a raise) every year through the bargaining the union was doing with the state,” Hebert said. “Everybody was receiving (the raise) whether they were in the union or not.”
The guidelines for the USPS salary increase project were released on July 29. The proposal established a two percent across-the-board increase.
“It was a two percent pool of total salary base (for all USPS workers),” Lovins said.
The guidelines of the increase changed significantly from the years before. Increases were based on an employee’s most recent performance review. Although in the past all employees at the “effective” level were given raises, this year’s pay increase was only distributed to employees qualified as “commendable” or better on their reviews. The raises also did not reflect compensation for length of service. What they did reflect, however, was a market-based comparison to other average salaries. The performance points accounted for 60 percent of the raise while market data was the other 40 percent.
Lovins said the raises “are regulated by market issues” and that they are meant to “reward top performers,” which is why only commendable or better employees received performance points.
Out of the 1,713 USPS employees on the Tampa campus, 422 were certified as effective and did not receive a raise.
The performance reviews considered for raises were due June 30, a month before the guidelines were publicly released. Some departments on campus didn’t know what the salary increase would be based on until after the reviews were due.
“We weren’t aware before the increases that the raises were based on evaluations,” said Rick Fallin, transportation coordinator for USF.
There are approximately 65 national unions in the state of Florida. Of those, the union representing the USPS employees is the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, better known as AFSCME.
“The union has represented the employees for over 20 years,” McClelland said. “We’ve represented employees by collectively bargaining a labor contract that puts the terms and conditions of employment, wages and benefits for employees in a legally enforceable agreement with our employer. We enforce that contract by representing employees if they feel the terms of their contract have been violated by management.”
But for union representation, an election must be held during which eligible employees vote for or against it.
“We initiated a petition to the Public Employees Relations Commission for a certification election,” McClelland said.
PERC represents, according to myflorida.com, approximately 400,000 public employees of the state of Florida, which include fire fighters, police officers, and teachers, among others. PERC oversees the collective bargaining for public employees.
“We met that goal of 30 percent (eligible worker signatures) and this is the election that we petitioned,” McClelland said. “(The union representation) will be determined by a simple majority of the votes. Both union and non-union members can participate in this election.”
The union also represents workers if they file grievances against their employers or if they feel unfair disciplinary actions have been taken against them.
“Having a union puts your relationship with your employer on a much firmer legal ground and protects your rights,” McClelland said.
While the contract negotiated by the union extends to all eligible employees, McClelland recommends those not in the union to join.
“It’s important that employees join the union because they can be more directly involved in the creating of that document,” he said. “Rather than leaving it to others, they can be intimately involved in the negotiations and the approval of the contract.”
But USF officials oppose employee involvement in unions. The Human Resources Web site claims that USF is not anti-union but pro-employee.
“We encourage the employees to vote, because we believe every vote counts,” Lovins said. “But we believe the best position is to directly deal with employees.”
The university’s position is that employees do not need a third party to communicate with its employers. In an Aug. 13 memo, Lovins wrote, “Communicating directly with our employees is at least as effective as working with third-party intervention such as a labor union.”
The election for union representation is a Yes or No secret ballot. Eligible members of the staff were sent ballots on Aug. 18 by PERC, which will administer the election. The ballot must be received back in Tallahassee by Tuesday.
While the USF chapter of AFSCME represents all USF employees on all campuses, not every employee has to join the union.
Florida is classified as a Right-to-Work state, allowing workers to decide whether they want to join and financially support a union.
“The state of Florida constitutionally protects (a person’s) right to work with or without being in a union,” said Olga Joanow, assistant general counsel for USF.
Joanow said that in Florida, there are no “union shops” which require a worker to join the union before he or she can be employed at such an establishment.
“If you don’t want to be a member of a union, the union has no obligation to represent you,” Joanow said.
But the union still provides the security of having a third party negotiate the contract.
“If we sign a contract with our employer, the terms of that contract will be extended to all 1600 (eligible) employees, whether they’re union members or not,” McClelland said.