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Staff union’s raise delayed

After receiving several emails from concerned employees last week, staff union President Susie Shannon sent out an email to all staff members informing them they would not be receiving the raises that were set to be released on Jan. 1.

The proposal offered by the university would give most staff employees a one-time raise of $600 to their base pay, but issues in the collective bargaining process between USF and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) has led to an indefinite delay in the bonus dispersals.

Shannon said the postponement has worried many staff members who were depending on the raise.

“[After] speaking with the people in my bargaining unit I can tell you that the staff is obviously not very happy about the bonuses being postponed and, I mean, neither am I,” Shannon said. “I have a car sitting in my front yard that I don’t have the money to get fixed yet. I think all of the staff could really use the raise.”

After months of negotiation, the bargaining team for AFSCME decided that negotiations between the two sides were deadlocked and needed outside help to reach a deal. 

Shannon said the staff union hopes the process will take less than two months, but Theresa Drye, USF associate vice president of human resources, said the process could take much longer.

“Generally, it could be between three to six months,” Drye said. “We have to go to a special magistrate and we are dependent upon that person’s schedule. If there is still no agreement after that, then it will go to the Board of Trustees and that also requires scheduling. Then the language of the proposal also says the raises will be dispersed within 60 days after ratification, so we don’t control the process.”

Until the university and AFSCME reach an agreement on the policy changes, staff members will not receive the raise.

In addition to tabling the raise at this year’s bargaining, the university also tabled a proposal to make changes to the existing sick leave policy

The current proposal for changes to the sick leave policy would freeze the rate of payout based on staff employees’ current wages and would change the payout process to make cashing in their unused sick days a one-time deal.

The proposal would also eliminate the possibility of sick leave payout for any staff employees hired by the university after Jan. 1 this year, a benefit Shannon said staff has enjoyed for almost 50 years.

 “They always expect us to swallow whatever pay they send our way and just look the other way at whatever else they are trying to push through,” she said. “But the sick leave proposal is extremely significant to our unit.”

Last week AFSCME notified USF negotiators that it was officially declaring impasse on the sick leave policy.  

In an email sent to in-unit staff on Jan. 28, USF’s Division of Human Resources said that, while the USF bargaining team “remained open to counter proposals on the sick leave,” AFSCME refused to accept any revisions.

Shannon said she believed the email was “slightly disingenuous” given that AFSCME had proposed to take the agenda item off the table until they could have more to bargain with when negotiations on the unions entire contract would occur in March.

The university was not convinced that waiting is the better option.

“That’s not a real counter proposal,” Drye said. “We are putting significant dollars on the table for their membership in terms of raises. If we wait until March to begin the process over again, we will be adding to the $28 million liability that sick leave is creating for the university.” 

According to Drye, by 2011, most universities across the state, such as UF, FIU, FSU and FAU, had made significant changes to or eliminated sick leave payouts for employees.

“At FAU, no one will ever have sick leave payout again,” she said. “In many ways our proposal is much less stringent. The primary impact of what we are trying to do is on the people who aren’t even employed here yet, who won’t have any expectation of seeing that.”

Both sides will continue negotiating the proposal during the impasse process, but a Public Employees Relations Commission Special Magistrate will now look at the policy changes and make a non-binding decision.

Administrative employees who are not unionized received bonuses Jan. 1, but are now subject to the new changes in the sick leave policy