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Union grievance could cost USF thousands

Formal objections from the staff union could reverse dozens of layoffs despite USF’s tightening budget.

William McClelland, president of the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), filed a class-action grievance against USF last week. The grievance is in response to reports of labor agreement violations and could potentially affect every laid-off staff member at the University.

While grievances are regularly filed against USF, a large-scale complaint like McClelland’s is rare.

“A class-action grievance is very unusual,” said Michael Hoad, vice president of communications, who also said that he has never heard of one occurring at the University.

The grievance seeks job restoration for employees whose layoffs violate the collective bargaining agreement between the school and the union. If the grievance is ruled in favor of McClelland – either by internal resolution or an outside arbitrator – those staff members could have their jobs back and their lost pay returned.

“What an arbitrator could conceivably do is rule that (laid-off employees) could be put back to the positions they held at the pay they had,” said Mike Temple, regional director of AFSCME Council 79. “They would effectively be rehired.”

Thirty staff members have been laid off without alternative job placement so far, said Lara Wade, media relations news director.

The staff’s chief complaints include the improper use of the retention-point system. Under the union contract, points are awarded to employees for years of service and satisfactory job performance. Employees in a given department with the least amount of points should be the first to be laid off, McClelland said. Some staff members claim to have been laid off despite having more points than their co-workers.

There are also disputes concerning the definition of a lay-off unit, or the area in which laid-off employees can seek alternative job placement. Union representatives claim that the lay-off unit once consisted of the entire University, but has been reduced to individual departments without a union agreement.

While employees have filed individual grievances concerning these issues, McClelland said it is much more efficient to file one class-action grievance that could potentially affect all employees.

“We want to make sure if there’s a positive settlement it is extended to the other individuals that are affected by the same issues,” he said.

A ruling in favor of the staff could cost the University thousands of dollars to restore lost wages, McClelland said, even though they are not seeking extra money for punitive damages.

Union representatives said they do not want to harm the University during a budget crisis, but they hope the grievance will change the way future layoffs are conducted.

“I don’t think they are going to want to fight these battles continuously,” Temple said.

Despite the potential magnitude of the class-action grievance, the University will handle it as if it were any other staff complaint, Wade said.

The first step in any grievance is an attempt to resolve the issue internally. Human resources representatives will meet with the party filing the grievance and attempt to resolve it through discussion, Hoad said.

The University will then decide to accept or deny the grievance based on the discussion.

“If we are dissatisfied with their response we can take it to the next level,” McClelland said.

This could involve additional internal resolution until both sides are satisfied.

“If we get to the point where we can’t agree, then it goes to binding arbitration,” Hoad said.

A neutral mediator with the authority to rule on the grievance would be introduced, McClelland said. Whichever side lost the grievance would pay for the mediator’s services.

However, a ruling is not likely to occur in the near future.

“It’s not a quick process,” McClelland said. “It can take six months or sometimes longer.”

Sevilla grievance will go to hearingMcClelland’s class-action grievance may be affected by a hearing before it ever reaches arbitration.

An individual grievance filed by Haydee Sevilla will be decided on by a hearing in August. While the grievance applies only to Sevilla, it has the potential to impact other grievances.

“It could set the precedence for future arbitrations, as well as how the University conducts future layoffs,” said Temple, who will represent Sevilla during the hearing.

Sevilla was laid off despite having more retention points than many of her co-workers, McClelland said. However, her lay-off unit was limited to a small department with a limited number of employees. She did not receive alternative placement.

“The Sevilla arbitration case will have to address the issue of whether the University has the authority to unilaterally change the size of the lay-off unit,” McClelland said.

The ruling could influence arbitration in the class-action grievance, potentially affecting dozens of employees, he said.