Staff union, USF find common ground

Collective bargaining for the 2014-15 contract came to a close between university and staff union officials who represent 700 custodians, maintenance and non-administrative staff on campus. 

Though negotiations began with a rough start in September, both sides reconciled many issues and left Wednesday’s bargaining meeting grinning and shaking hands.

“You met us midway on some stuff, we met you midway on stuff,” University Chief Negotiator John Dickinson said. “This is our best proposal of the year.”

Once the contract is ratified, all university staff will receive a 3 percent increase to base salary starting in 2015.

This settlement followed a series of counter proposals. The staff union originally demanded a 5 percent base salary increase, while the university proposed an across-the-board 2 percent increase with a bonus for merit. 

“Our board is extremely adamant in their position that performance should be a critical factor in how we pay people at this university,” Dickinson said. “For purposes of getting an agreement … at least this first year, we will retreat from that notion.” 

Hector Ramos, chief negotiator for the staff union, said a base salary increase was needed to compensate for recession years in which the staff received little or no increase.

“We don’t blame the university for that,” he said. “We’re trying to make up some of that lost ground.”

The university also agreed to provide the staff union a list of newly hired staff, including their names, job titles, departments and on-campus mailing addresses. 

This arrangement satisfies the union’s demand to increase its access to staff employees and their awareness of the union’s existence. 

Ramos originally proposed the university hand out a letter from the union president and a copy of their contract to new staff hires. 

Outlining the extent and definition of practical discipline was central to the final discussions as well. 

Ramos asked the university in previous meetings to explicitly express how supervisors may handle reprimanding employees. 

The contract will now state that supervisors must discipline respectfully and in a private manner to avoid embarrassment. 

In earlier negotiations, Ramos said the staff union received reports of unjust treatment. Dickinson said Wednesday that the university would remind managers and supervisors to treat their employees fairly. 

“It’s not just because (the staff union) proposed it,” Dickinson said. “It’s because it’s the right thing to do.”

Dickinson further said public disciplinary actions, such as yelling at an employee whose mistake creates an imminent danger, would be reviewed by Human Resources and resolved internally. 

For reprimanded employees, the university agreed to define progressive discipline as a process for dealing with job-related behavior that doesn’t meet the university’s performance standards. 

“It’s the notion of the employee being given the chance to improve their behavior before immediate termination,” Dickinson said.

The university also signed off on a new grievance procedure. If a staff employee’s grievance got to the point of arbitration, each party would split the cost of the arbitrator. 

Before this, the cost of arbitration fell to the party that lost in court, which was a jeopardy Ramos had complained the faculty union didn’t have to risk, unlike the staff union.

The university also agreed to revise the contract’s layoff policy to better protect permanent status staff employees. If layoffs would be necessary, nonpermanent employees in comparable positions will be laid off instead. 

Though the staff union members at Wednesday’s meetings said they approved of the university’s final proposal, they would nonetheless meet with union members Nov. 21 before ratifying the contract.

“Thank you, for what I consider a very fruitful negotiation,” Ramos said.