Contract talks between the university and the Service Employees International Union stalled recently.
The union workers’ two-year contract expired on Oct. 2 but was extended until Oct. 30 in the hope that an agreement could be reached. However, negotiations are still going on.
Lead Associate Vice President of Human Resources Charles Murphy stressed that this could have been worse. “This is very different than two years ago,” Murphy said. “Two years ago, the contract expired in May, and wasn’t resolved until October. We are talking and will continue to talk,” Murphy said.
Murphy declined to comment on the details of the offer, but said that the entire agreement was intertwined and the issues couldn’t be evaluated separately. “There are many, many factors that come into play here,” he said.
Meanwhile, chief negotiator for the union Bruce Popper believes that the biggest issue is maintaining the level of health benefits.
Currently, the union has a managed health care system, where a certain contribution from UR goes into a managed health care fund.
Popper explained that money going into this fund was only subject to a 7 percent administrative fee as opposed to private health care, which is funded in after-tax dollars.
“Otherwise, from a dollar, 10 cents goes to FICA before you get paid, so you start off with 90 cents, then there is other taxes, maybe an additional 10-12 cents, so the fund is a better idea,” Popper said.
This way, instead of 93 cents going into health care, you only have 80 cents. “It’s a bad idea to pay for health care with after-tax dollars since investing in union-managed health care [gets] more for the dollar,” he said.
Andre Coleman, auxiliary operations food service worker at Club Express and active member of SEIU Local 200, said, “We don’t feel [the agreement] is fair. How can you take away health care from health care workers?”
He went on to explain that taking away health care benefits was the beginning of a slippery slope and that the university was chipping away at their benefits.
Tomorrow, starting at 11 a.m. and continuing till the end of the day, the union will be holding an informational picket on Elmwood Avenue in front of the Strong Memorial Hospital.
Union representative Rosemarie McKinney explained that this is an informational picket, and is designed to raise student awareness of the issues. It is not a work stoppage – the workers would head over to picket only after their shifts.
She said that the union is escalating its actions, and will be preparing for a strike if a compromise is not met.
Both sides are meeting with a federal mediator sometime this week, and talks will begin shortly thereafter.
However, Senior Vice President for Administration and Finance Ronald Paprocki is optimistic.”I have every confidence that we will work together and find an agreement that is fair to both parties,” he said.
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