Union calls for mediator

The union representing USF’s staff announced Tuesday that it wants to bring a federal mediator into talks to speed up contract negotiations.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), whose ranks include about 2,000 non-faculty, non-graduate student staffers at USF, sent an e-mail expressing frustration with the current state of bargaining between the University and the Federation (AFSCME).

As it now stands, AFSCME, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, and the University have been working to develop a contract for three years, but have yet to come to an agreement.

“We have exhausted every approach in talks with management without resolution to many important issues to the staff. In our view, federal mediation will offer professional guidance for both sides to move to an agreement,” the e-mail stated.

Other concerns specified in the e-mail included instating benefits like employee leave, fostering job security – including transferring employees instead of laying them off – and implementing written job requirements and performance standards.

The e-mail especially criticized the Board of Trustees – which since January 2003 has employed all of USF’s faculty and staff – as being unwilling to work with the Federation and “reluctant in negotiating a labor contract.”

William McClelland, president of the local chapter of the Federation and spokesman of the negotiating team, said too much time had elapsed without yielding significant progress.

“We called a federal mediator because we’ve been negotiating 2 1/2 years and we haven’t resolved the non-economic issues and we haven’t even got to the economic items,” he said. “It’s gone on too long.”

Nadine Priester, an academic program specialist in criminology who is on the Federation’s bargaining team and is the chapter’s recording secretary, also expressed frustration.

“We’re tired of just foot-dragging behavior, of pointless back-and-forth debate,” she said. “We need to get to the economic issues and get some money into people’s pockets. The faculty have a contract, the graduate students have a contract (but) the staff don’t have a contract.”

Priester’s concerns echoed those emphasized by McClelland and within the e-mail. A Federation analysis of its members’ salaries showed that 88 percent make less than the salary required to support a four-person family in the Tampa Bay area – about $40,000.

For McClelland, pay was key.

“We have some serious salary problems with the staff,” he said.

He also said the Federation requested that the University conduct a study comparing USF staffers’ salaries to those of employees working similar jobs in the region this summer, but that this hadn’t been done.

Sandy Lovins, chief negotiator for USF and associate vice president of administrative affairs, disagreed with the Federation’s assessment.

“We’re disappointed to read AFSCME’s account of negotiations,” she said. “We do not believe that they’ve presented an accurate representation of our discussions to date.”

Lovins said USF and the Federation had discussed using federal mediators, and that they considered “gauging” the need at a meeting last week.

According to the e-mail, however, the Federation had “asked management to join us with federal mediation. So far they have refused without offering any other solution to find resolution.”

In Lovins’ account, though, the University didn’t feel the need to bring in a mediator in the past, and had been “willing and able to move the process along independently.”

“We didn’t know whether there was a need back then,” she said.

Lovins said she’s now considering sending out an e-mail clarifying the University’s position on bargaining by the end of the week.

“I believe strongly that it’s important to convey the facts to our employees, and we fully intend to do so,” Lovins said. “AFSCME in their e-mail is saying one thing which I believe is not factual.”

She said federal mediators are funded by taxes and would not cost the University any additional money.

Sherman Dorn, president of USF’s chapter of the United Faculty of Florida, said he hoped the University and the Federation could promptly resolve their dispute.

“I would like there to be an agreement that gives staff an appropriate salary, a living wage and an opportunity for advancement on their merits,” he said. “I’d like to see agreement with all the campus unions that meets the needs of the University and the employees.”