Labor union contract agreement remains elusive as talks continue

Leah Buletti, News Editor

UR and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) remain unable to reach an agreement on contract negotiations that affect 1,800 workers at the River Campus and the UR Medical Center (URMC) after more than two months of contract discussions, the most recent with a federal moderator, and a slew of protests decrying proposed cuts to health care. In addition to wages and child care, health care remains among the most contentious issues preventing an agreement, union members say.

The contract, which covers patient care technicians, nursing unit secretaries, surgical assistants, environmental service staff, food service staff, transportation staff and materials processing staff, was most recently extended from Oct. 20 to Oct. 27. The University is extending it week to week as negotiations continue.

UR presented a new proposal at the end of last week that dropped the original suggestion that would have mandated union employees to sign up for University health plans, saying that UR would continue and increase its contribution to the National Benefits Fund, which currently covers the union employees. UR also proposed that union employees contribute toward the cost of their premiums, as their non-union colleagues do, said Teri D’Agostino, University spokeswoman on the negotiations.

“As the cost of health care continues to rise, it is simply no longer realistic for any employer to fully bear the cost of employee health coverage,” D’Agostino said.

To offset this expense, UR suggested increasing the proposed wage increase to 2 percent, which non-union University employees receive, she said. The union’s opening wage increase proposal was 5 percent and UR’s opening proposal was 1 percent.

Union Vice President for the region Bruce Popper acknowledged that UR had conceded that union members could stay with the National Benefit Fund, but stated that it had done so with “completely unacceptable conditions — namely an average 2.7 percent take home pay cut for full-time employees, worse for part-timers.”

He also noted that UR management is still attempting to weaken subcontracting protections for URMC employees and wants to “greatly reduce coverage when an employee becomes ill or disabled.”

D’Agostino said UR has suggested compromises on subcontracting, sick leave and training and education, adding that “we have proposed a significant improvement to long-term disability, which would extend premium-free coverage to all union employees.”

“It is our hope that union negotiators will engage positively with us to resolve our differences and reach a final agreement that serves all parties,” she said.

Buletti is a member of the class of 2013.



You can contact Leah at leah.buletti@rochester.edu.

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