After weeks of tense negotiations, members of UR’s two largest service worker unions overwhelmingly approved a labor contract on Nov. 3.

Workers have been without a contract since Oct. 1, and a strike vote was scheduled for just days after the agreement was reached.

The contract secures health free, comprehensive health benefits and provides significant wage increases over the next nine months.

“This contract represents a win for both sides,” Associate Vice President for Human Resources and UR’s lead negotiator Chuck Murphy said in a press release. “The university was able to stay true to its principles of equity between the union and non-union employees, truthful and fair negotiations and market-sensitivity.”

Roughly 1,200 service workers are represented by the Service Employees International Union.

About 200 River Campus service workers are members of Local 200United, primarily personnel in food and building service positions.

The Medical Center and Strong Memorial Hospital have about 1,000 employees belonging to Local 1199 in patient care, surgical support, patient transport, supply and distribution, housekeeping and other service positions.

A point of contention was maintaining quality health benefits.

“The most important thing for me was that I kept my health benefits,” Wilson Commons cashier and SEIU member Dawn Marshall Hosier said.

In addition to preserving the Union’s health benefits plan, the contract calls for wage increases of three percent retroactive to Oct. 2 and another three percent raise on June 11, 2006.

On-call pay for hospital employees, safety shoe allowances and employee trainers pay were all increased as well.

The new contracts extend to Sept. 29, 2007.

“The workers will receive a decent raise, and more importantly, their families’ health benefits are protected for another two years,” SEIU Local 1199 Vice President Bruce Popper said. Popper serves as chief negotiator for both SEIU Local 200 United and SEIU Local 1199.

“All of the workers were obviously pleased as well,” Popper said.

Popper points to the union’s vote of 630 to 13 in favor of the new contract as evidence of worker satisfaction.

Messages left for UR representatives were unanswered at press time.

Concessions from original demands were made by both parties. UR compromised by paying large health care costs, keeping the plan free to union members and maintaining low copayments.

SEIU conciliated to UR’s request of lower wages and raises for new employees.

“We did nothing to change the so-called “two-tier” wage scale for new and future workers,” Popper said. “Lowering the wages of future workers will come back to haunt us in a few years.”

One unique feature of the new labor agreements is an invitation distributed by UR for employees to participate in achieving UR’s strategic goals.

“I have great respect for President Seligman’s strategic vision for UR, especially his goals for increased diversity and community involvement,” Popper said. “He is a defender of academic freedom as well. His values seem to be very much in line with those of our union.

Continuing, he said, “I am hopeful that we can develop the kind of relationship with President Seligman that includes service workers in accomplishing the goals of diversity and community. A very large number of our members live in the 19th Ward, just across the river from UR. They can play an integral role in the success of UR.”

Picketing and protests broke out at Strong Memorial Hospital and around the River Campus in late October when workers rejected earlier offers from UR. The settlement was reached just as union members were preparing to vote on a strike. The vote was canceled when the settlement was reached.

“The last negotiating session lasted 16 hours, but the parties were only ‘at the table’ at midnight for the final settlement,” Popper said. “The federal mediator went back and forth between both sides’ caucus rooms to fashion a settlement. The federal mediator was key to the resolving the dispute.”

Popper hopes that the next round of negotiations will be less tense.

“We can all benefit from achieving the title of President Seligman’s inaugural address ‘we are one university,'” Popper said. “If we can do this, the next negotiation will be very different.”

“The contracts expire Sept. 29, 2007. So we will be at it again in mid-2007,” Popper said. “Hopefully, we’ll get an earlier start next time.”

Bruml can be reached at abruml@campustimes.org.



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