BOT, USF staff negotiations stall

After 2 1/2 years of contract negotiations between the union that represents University staff and the Board of Trustees (BOT), no agreement is in sight.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and the University’s bargaining team have attempted to negotiate a contract that includes staff wages, benefits and terms and conditions of employment, but USF has recently ended all discussion until the end of the legislative session in Tallahassee, citing budgetary issues as the stopping point.

“We are very frustrated with this,” said William McClelland, president of the local AFSCME chapter. “We think it’s important that USF come to the bargaining table, even in tough economic times. We haven’t even had the chance to talk about what the problem is, let alone find a solution.”

Among other concerns, the stipulation over wages takes precedence for the union workers. AFSCME represents more than 2,000 University staff members, McClelland said, and since the BOT assumed control over staff employment five years ago, almost none have seen a pay increase.

“We have employees paid so low out here that they qualify for welfare and food stamps,” McClelland said. “These issues need to be addressed. We need to try to work out some long- and short-term relief. I have worked out here 30 years. I am an alumni. I know there are good times and bad times, but if they can’t address this issue now, when are they going to do it?”

In an e-mail sent to McClelland, Sandy Lovins, vice president of the office of human resources at the University, explained USF’s position toward resuming talks with AFSCME.

“Once we have the budgetary reality and, again, a better understanding of the implications for the University, we will be able to consider economic proposals,” Lovins said in the e-mail.

Yet economic and budget-related matters are only part of the contract that the union is attempting to negotiate, McClelland said.

“We have several non-economic issues that could be discussed right now that is not dependant upon what the legislature decides, but the University has walked away from talking to us about anything,” McClelland said.

However, McClelland said that the University has continued talks with faculty and graduate assistant unions regarding economic issues.

AFSCME vice president, Lia Orlando, said the failed contract negotiations have had a negative impact, lowering morale and creating an attitude of extreme unfairness among the staff.

“It’s been way too long. They found a way to finish their negotiations with graduates and faculty, and there is no reason for them to treat us this way,” she said. “It makes us all feel bad and that feeling permeates everything. I don’t understand why they can’t see the bigger picture.”

Orlando said that the staff feels as though its importance is overlooked, since its members are not the ones bringing in the research dollars.

“Staff is the backbone,” she said. “We are just as important as everyone else.”

For now, AFSCME members are looking in all directions for a way to bring the University back to the bargaining table to resume discussion.

They find little comfort in the words of Lovins.

“I remain hopeful that these serious budgetary issues will be resolved soon and am committed to returning to the table to resume productive negotiations in an effort to successfully resolve the remainder of our outstanding issues as soon as possible,” said Lovins in her e-mail.

Lovins could not be reached for comment.