Donated sick leave terminated for staff

Verna Glenn went to the doctor in April 2008 for what should have been a routine procedure. Instead, Glenn, an administrative specialist in the USF Registrar’s Office, was put on dialysis and told her kidneys were shutting down.

Glenn left work on sick leave after test results found she had a form of cancer known as multiple myeloma. She used all of her accrued and pooled sick leave while undergoing dialysis three days a week and chemotherapy two days a week.

Employees from across the university lined up to donate some of their accrued sick leave to Glenn, which she used until she was able to return to work in April 2009.

“All I could say was ‘thank you,’” Glenn said. “That kept my lights on, that kept my mortgage paid, that kept my water going and it allowed me to maintain my insurance that covered my visits to Moffitt and the medications I had to get.”

Last week, the university informed staff that the sick leave donation program that Glenn credits for saving her livelihood will soon be terminated.

While there is a sick leave pool where employees may contribute accrued hours to a central pool that members can draw from, donated sick leave is given to those who have already used the 340 hours provided by the central pool.  

Susie Shannon, president of the staff union, said dissolution of this policy was unexpected and unexamined during negotiations for the 2014-15 staff contract.

“None of us on the staff side of the table had any idea that this was being planned,” she said. “The university seems to have lost all of its integrity.”

The staff union is claiming the university flipped the tables at the eleventh hour by threatening to withhold the staff contract’s ratification.

However, USF spokeswoman Lara Wade said the change in sick leave was fully presented, discussed and agreed upon during contract negotiations. 

“This should really be a surprise to no one,” she said.“… I’m not quite sure how anyone didn’t understand what was happening when they agreed upon this mutually at the table.”

If the staff union had decided to renegotiate, Shannon said the university threatened to start bargaining from scratch. This would delay and possibly risk the 3 percent raise for staff the university had agreed to. 

“There’s no guarantee that we would get the same things we got, and the things that we got were so important,” Shannon said.

As to why the university wants to stop donations, Shannon said she met with Vice President of Human Resources Trudie Frecker, who said the program was mismanaged from the start because its fund wasn’t properly set up and the costs ended up coming from department budgets.

The university’s legal basis for discontinuing sick leave is a document from March of 2014. Both chief negotiators of the university and the staff union initialed striking the chief accounting officer’s control over donated sick leave on this document. 

On the page prior, however, the initials of the staff union chief negotiator are absent while the initials of the university’s chief negotiator are next to the striking out of the paragraph allowing sick leave to be donated. 

The 2014-15 contract that the staff union signed included changes to the donated sick leave program, but Shannon said the union was not made verbally aware during negotiations.

Notes of the bargaining meetings were taken by hand for both sides. 

The Oracle did not receive the requested transcripts from the university by the time of print.

Shannon said she could not provide her copies because the union agreed not to share their notes as part of the ground rules set by the university.

In an email to the staff union, Shannon stated the only related discussion was ending the sick leave donations to new hires.

She said a worker discussed the possibility of termination for the entire program with her before the contract was voted on, however.

After bargaining concluded and Shannon said she became aware of the termination, the staff union negotiator sent a cease-and-desist email to university officials. 

“We got emails … going ‘Don’t you remember agreeing to this last year?’” Shannon said. “Well, heck no, we didn’t remember having agreed to that last year.”

Wade said it’s improbable the policy change was overlooked, as the union displays all the staff contract changes before voting internally. 

“I would imagine that’s what happened here,” she said. 

The staff union collected votes and agreed to the contract Friday. 

Shannon said staff employees are nonetheless “overwhelmingly” excited about the rest of the contract. 

“We got some things we can really use to defend people against some of the work management practices,” she said. “The raise was, of course, very important.”

This year’s negotiations were for a three-year contract. Aside from the raise, the staff union will receive protection against public reprimanding from supervisors and a more affordable grievance procedure.  

For the next three years, the staff union may only request two articles and a wage increase each year.  Shannon said brining the donated sick leave program back to the table would cost the union a chance for another demand. 

“I hope that we can do something to change the situation. I don’t know that we can,” she said. “I certainly want to reach out to the university for some more conversation, but there’s no telling.”