Staff union negotiations suspended as talks get personal


Contract negotiations were suspended between university officials and the staff union Thursday due to frustrations over the clarity of each side’s demands and motivations. 

Though Thursday’s negotiations were allotted two more hours than usual, the meeting ended in less than an hour. 

Much of the discussion revolved around whether some clauses, already found in university rules and regulations, should also be included in the staff contract. 

Hector Ramos, chief negotiator for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), said the contract should be an accessible, primary source for questions staff may have about their rights. 

“If someone gets hurt, they should be able to go to the contract to see what their rights are, what’s expected of them and what’s expected of (USF),” he said. “If you say you’re doing it, and you have no problem doing it, put it in the contract.” 

John Dickinson, chief negotiator for the university administration, said adding existing clauses from university rules and regulations to the contract would be redundant and unnecessary. He also said the contract was too long and complicated to be claimed more accessible than university rules and regulations. 

“The information can easily be accessed through the Internet,” he said. “They can be pulled up just as easily as anything. It’s there and it’s accessible.” 

USF’s AFSCME President Susie Shannon said the university officials must understand that many staff union members do not have readily-available Internet access. 

“I’ve looked through policies and procedures, and I’ve only been getting better at it because I’ve been doing it for a while,” she said. “People need to know and they shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to find information that governs their job.” 

Dickinson proposed that instead of changing the existing contract, the university would provide a human resources employee who would assist staff in finding requested information. 

“People wouldn’t have to go on their own into what is like the Library of Congress to find something,” he said. “That wouldn’t be fair and we don’t want that to happen.” 

Ramos said this would be somewhat acceptable, though he found it needlessly stubborn not to write the language into the contract. 

Negotiators mentioned worker’s compensation most in this respect, an issue brought to the negotiation earlier this month when Ramos asked for the staff policy to equal that of the faculty union. 

Dickinson also said the staff union shouldn’t expect agreements because they were provided to the faculty union, specifically regarding allowing Shannon eight hours of her 40-hour workweek to focus on union business. 

“We’re just asking eight hours a week to resolve conflicts, not union business, not to organize, not to send out literature,” Ramos said. 

Dickinson said the university shouldn’t pay Shannon to handle union business on university time. 

This makes the universities pay, he said, for what unions typically pay for by using the revenue from union dues. Furthermore, USF is paying on AFSCME’s behalf, for the union to negotiate. 

Dickinson said the university understands if AFSCME cannot afford proper representation, but revenue streams should be transparent to prove it. 

“We want to see how much of that revenue stream is going to Washington D.C. to pay for people who drive around in limousines or take charter flights, and are not being spent on this campus,” he said. 

Ramos said he disagreed with this characterization as malicious misrepresentation, and that revenue streams were publically available to university administration. 

Resentment over the perceived disrespect re-emerged further into negotiations when discussing a clarification that would make it punishable for a supervisor to publicly embarrass an employee and force reprimands to be conducted in private. 

In previous negotiations earlier this month Ramos said staff members issued several complaints against supervisors from the Marshall Student Center, Physical Plant and College of Education. 

Dickinson said the university is willing to and will look into the complaints. 

“This is not us against you,” he said. “In good faith, we don’t want our hard workers to be mistreated in any way.” 

However, Ramos said he questioned whether the university did care. 

Before the two negotiating teams took a break, Dickinson said the bargaining was becoming too personal for constructive agreements. Nonetheless, he reiterated that the university was willing to soon propose a pay increase. 

“We’re going to do our best because we know that is critical to our negotiations,” he said. 

Before bargaining could resume, the staff union decided to suspend negotiations until Oct. 6 to prepare counter agreements.