USF rejects recommendations on impasse

University staff members got what they were dreading – and it’s left them with questions.

After USF rejected a special master’s recommendation late last week regarding contract agreements between administrators and 1,633 staff members, negotiations will continue without a clear end in sight.

“The University went in front of the special master and swore (it) was the best deal they could offer the staff, and now they’re presenting something saying they could do a better deal with the staff,” said Bill McClelland, president of USF’s chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). “Why didn’t they present that to us in the months we were negotiating before?”

USF informed employees Thursday night of its decision via the staff’s e-mail listserv. The e-mail specifically addresses cash incentives for performance -based employee evaluations. AFSCME wanted bonuses to be based on employees’ salary levels rather than performance ratings.

“Pay for performance is the relationship we want to have with the people who work here at all levels,” said USF spokesman Michael Hoad. “What tends to happen is that a lot of people, of course, do well under pay for performance and they get additional bonuses … To say, ‘No, it doesn’t matter whether you did a good job’ doesn’t make sense to us.”

There are three performance ratings – decided by a supervisor – a staff member can receive: “exemplary,” “commendable,” or “satisfactory.” An employee receives $1,000 for an “exemplary” rating, $750 for “commendable” and $500 for “satisfactory.”

In the e-mail, USF is offering an enhancement of the performance pay proposal: $1,500 for exemplary, $1,000 for commendable and $750 for satisfactory.

“This would reward employee performance and distribute a larger pool of money to employees than the (special magistrate) recommended,” the e-mail said. “Under this enhanced proposal, the majority of in-unit employees would receive at least a $1,000 bonus.”

But McClelland said staff members believe that information is misleading.

“They use the word ‘majority’ will receive $1,000, but under the special master’s recommendation, everyone would receive $1,000 … They’re just playing word games with what’s going on here, and I would be very suspicious of what they’re saying once you realize that they’re spinning this rather than letting people know what’s really going on,” he said.

McClelland also said the University failed to mention shift changes in its e-mail. AFSCME wants shift changes to be based on employee seniority, which the special master agreed with in his recommendation.

“They don’t mention it at all to the staff because they know it would be very unpopular with the staff,” McClelland said. “They’re being very selective in their presentation of what’s going on here.”

Hoad said he thinks USF has been communicating with employees all along.

“Not every day or every week, but they’ve been keeping people up to date,” Hoad said.

Other reasons for the University’s rejection, according to the e-mail, include bereavement leave, floating holidays, maximum holiday pay and the “meaningful” performance pay.

“There’s a whole lot of credibility issues with the University administration right now because of this action they’re taking … They had an opportunity to present the facts in front of an outside objective person,” McClelland said.

Hoad said USF acknowledged the recommendations, but he said: “Just to be clear, the special magistrate’s recommendations are just that. They’re recommendations.”

Negotiations over contract agreements began eight months ago. The staff declared impasse in July, and the special master was called in to review the case.

Staff members announced last week that they agreed with the recommendation, which mainly favored their side.

Now, a subcommittee of USF’s Board of Trustees (BOT) is faced with imposing a decision that would last for the remainder of the fiscal year. After that, negotiations will continue between administration and staff.

“This thing has been dragging on for a long period of time,” McClelland said. “I’m concerned that the USF administration is going to put the (BOT) in the middle of this, and the (BOT) will need to decide whether they’re going to support their own administration or their own staff and it puts them in a terrible situation, and I think it’s irresponsible for the administration to try to do that.”

McClelland said he hopes for a fair hearing, but the union has never appeared in front of the BOT regarding staff issues. BOT members deferred comment. Hoad said he doesn’t know when the decision will be made.