Staff awaits USFs response on impasse

Based on the last eight months, the USF staff’s union president is worried history may repeat itself.

Negotiations between University administrators and 1,633 staff members over contract agreements lasted that long, and USF’s chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) President Bill McClelland said he’s worried the disagreement could affect next year’s negotiations.

On Tuesday, staff members announced they agreed with a special magistrate’s contract recommendation to “get paid less,” said John Dickinson, the University’s chief negotiator and a Jacksonville attorney.

Dickinson said he was surprised by the decision. But McClelland said there was “quite a bit of a division” among staff members about accepting the recommendation.

“Most people felt this was the best deal we could get at the time,” he said. “I think everybody had reservations about it, but I think the spirit of trying to resolve this and move on was the main sentiment people shared.”

The disagreements began in July 2009 when the staff declared impasse, causing a special magistrate outside the University to review the situation. The University hasn’t made a decision to accept or reject the recommendation.

Dickinson would not provide a specific timeframe for when USF, given 20 days, would announce its decision, but he said the University would make one in a timely fashion. The recommendation was submitted Jan. 22.

“We carefully review a recommendation before we make a decision,” he said. “Based upon the facts, you make the best decision you can.”

Dickinson said he wasn’t sure when the 20-day deadline ends. McClelland said he believes the deadline is today by 5 p.m. if counting weekends.

He said negotiations over next year’s contract were to start in mid-February, but now he doesn’t know when they will happen.

“What I feel is negative about the recommendation is we had to go through a special master to begin with,” said McClelland, who also added that this was the first time AFSCME had a contract reviewed by a special magistrate. “I’m disappointed we couldn’t resolve this issue in a problem-solving way with the University … that doesn’t bode well to our relationship and I’m very concerned about that.”

If USF rejects the recommendation, a subcommittee of the school’s Board of Trustees will hold a hearing and impose a yearlong decision. Negotiations between staff and administration would continue after that.

The staff is also upset about agreements to cash incentives.

“The fact is that what we agreed to is the lowest salary of any employee at USF … It’s kind of a double-edge sword with us on that one. No one is very ecstatic or very happy about it,” McClelland said.

AFSCME wanted bonuses to be based on employees’ salary levels rather than performance ratings. There are three performance ratings – decided by supervisors – a staff member can receive: “exemplary,” “commendable,” or “satisfactory.”

Under the policy, someone with an “exemplary” rating receives a one-time bonus of $1,000, $750 for “commendable” and $500 for “satisfactory,” according to the recommendation.

In the recommendation, the special magistrate agreed with AFSCME.

“We think that’s a very positive thing of the ruling from the special master and we hope that can be used as a basis for trying to resolve these problems with the administration,” McClelland said.

The estimated total cost of the University’s proposal is about $1.2 million, according to the recommendation. The union’s estimated proposal is about $3.1 million.

Staff members are also happy the special master agreed with AFSCME’s proposal for shift changes to be based on employee seniority.

“We had difficulty last year when employees were moved to a late-night shift based on random selection, and we didn’t think that was a fair way of doing it,” McClelland said.

The recommendation, which for the most part favored AFSCME, also included negotiation on contract language modifications regarding overtime, leaves of absences, workers’ compensation coverage and changes to the State University System employment rules, now called USF Regulations.