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BOT committee sides with university on impasse

A big disappointment after more than eight months of contract negotiations with the University still isn’t stopping staff members from fighting for what they think is a fair contract.

USF’s Board of Trustees Labor Committee (BOTLC) voted in favor of the University’s position at a hearing Monday over the staff impasse, which was declared in July 2009 and has delayed other contract negotiations that should have began in February.

On Monday, the BOTLC ruled in favor of the University on three main contract issues: shift changes, leaves of absence/holidays and pay for performance.

A required ratification process, in which staff members vote on the BOTLC’s decision, is the last avenue for staff members to try and get their desired contract.

If a majority of the staff members disagree, the BOTLC’s decision is only imposed for the remaining fiscal year – ending June 30. After that, the staff and USF will continue negotiations.

“We still have some legal questions about what that (ratification) process looks like under these circumstances,” said Bill McClelland, president of USF’s chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a union that represents USF’s 1,633 staff members.

Usually at this point, there is an agreement between two sides, McClelland said. But McClelland said that because the staff union disagrees with the BOTLC’s decision completely, they’re looking for another alternative to ratification.

University spokesman Michael Hoad said he was unsure about the ratification process.

In the past, employees were required to give “reasonable notice” of a vote and what they are voting on, said McClelland, a 33-year employee and alumnus. It could take several weeks to prepare that information, he said.

“We felt we did the best thing for our employees and that’s the bottom line,” Hoad said.

During negotiations this year, USF’s administration increased its offer of cash incentives for performance, which is based on three ratings, Hoad said.

That came after a special magistrate sided with staff members in February, saying pay increases should not be based on performance ratings.

USF rose its previous cash rewards to $1,500 for “exemplary,” $1,000 for “commendable” and $750 for “satisfactory.” The BOTLC on Monday ruled in favor of USF’s new pay-for-performance award system.

Staff members also want shift changes based on seniority, but the BOTLC ruled the “University needed to maintain its ability to make job assignments … based on a host of criteria, including but not limited to, qualifications, education, training, experience,” according to a letter that will be sent to employees today.

There are instances where random selection is used to decide employees’ shift changes, and that’s caused hardship among employees, said Susie Shannon, academic program specialist in the College of Visual and Performing Arts. Some custodial workers often have another job, said Shannon, a 10-year employee and alumna. That may be because the living wage for one adult and one child in the Tampa Bay area is more than $33,000, she said, and about 80 percent of USF custodial workers earn less than $17,000.

And some of those custodial workers have had to forego their second employment because of a sudden shift change, Shannon said.

“These are also the people that are impacted by the performance evaluation system because none of them have exemplary … and it doesn’t matter that they have 20, 25, 30 years experience,” Shannon said.

“Shift changes are extremely rare,” the University’s chief negotiator and Jacksonville attorney John Dickinson said at the hearing. “Usually, it’s a situation where we have a reduction in force or … when we combine shifts. It’s critical to the University’s operation that it be given the flexibility to make shift determinations. For example, not all custodians are trained on medical cleaning or in operating specialized equipment.”

Both sides had 20 minutes to argue their case to the three BOTLC members – Rhea Law, chair of the Board of Trustees, trustee John Ramil and trustee Bob Soran – who voted. The committee also ruled that contract language regarding leaves of absence be governed by University Regulation, which dictates benefits like holiday and leave pay.

“Some of the benefits that employees have been enjoying since 2003 (are) more holidays for those on longer shifts … (and) a sick leave program and, for example, more days for bereavement leave,” Dickinson said in his argument to BOTLC members.

McClelland said the staff was told those negotiations will start as soon as possible. This is the first time USF staff members have addressed BOT members in contract negotiations.