After almost a year of talks, a wage settlement has been reached between UR and Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union Health Care Employees and SEIU Local 200 United. The settlement follows a case brought to the National Labor Relations Board and a U.S. District Court, with the grievance of workers not receiving wage increases as stipulated by their contracts.

The issue was settled in the final weeks of September when it was decided that employees with either two or18 years of experience of seniority as of Oct. 9, 2002 will receive the added 5 percent wage increase, independent of whether or not they had been reclassified.

“We bargained the contract and negotiated a 5 percent increase for those with two or more years of more seniority,” Local 200 representative Rosemarie McKinney said.

The grievance lay with UR workers who were reclassified to different jobs, even after working for two years or more in the previous position, and were not given the mandated 5 percent wage increase.

“If someone spent two years in a specific classification and were then moved, say from a porter to a dishwasher, they did not receive a wage increase,” McKinney said. “It’s almost like they were punished for advancing.”

The university held the position that only certain employees were qualified for raises based on seniority, and once they were reclassified, they did not necessarily qualify for the wage increase.

“Having two years of seniority with the union wasn’t having two years of seniority with the university,” McKinney said.

Strong Memorial Hospital workers under Local 1199, who have had expired contracts since June 2002, and Local 200 workers, whose contracts expired in October, went into tentative agreements to negotiate the contract stipulations.

“This dispute goes back to last October with the implemented wage settlement,” UR’s Associate Vice President of Human Resources Chuck Murphy said. “The union disagreed with the interpretation of how wages and the classification ought to be resolved.”

Two months after the agreement to negotiate the contracts, the payroll was sorted out and pay was distributed.

“It took two months for payroll to individually go through each record and determine the appropriate pay rate,” Murphy said. “It was after this the grievance was filed.”

Both language in the contract and reclassification action caused confusion, which eventually led to the grievance.

“The way the language should read is that the people got a 5 percent raise,” McKinney said. “But there were several reorganizations this summer, and people got moved around. When the people were reclassified, they lost the raise.”

The crux of the issue was the wording of the contract, and the university explained that the two sides had differing views on the matter.

“It came down to a wording dispute. Our concern was, we had agreed to establish a pay rate for two years of service and 18 years of service,” Murphy said. “What we didn’t want to have happen is that if a secretary with 20 years of service transferred to a different position, to a patient care technician for example, and automatically find their way at the 18-year step with a wage increase.”

Based on the contract in December, the university saw it that if you change positions, it is not fair to the incumbents who have to work their way up if someone who is transferred is paid at a top level. The union saw it as years of service to the university, and they expect, if it was two years or 18 years, to receive the wage increase.

Workers, depending on their position and other factors, will also receive retroactive pay for as much as 14 months, according to the agreement.

Some harbor resentment toward the university’s treatment of the situation.

“I’ll never give [the university] the thumbs up on the way this was redeemed,” McKinney said. “It could have been more of a win-win situation. The only people that suffered were the workers.”

The length of time that the settlement took was also a point of chagrin for union workers, even with the eventual resolution.

“It was unfortunate we couldn’t get the university to sit down earlier and work this out,” McKinney said. “I’m happy we settled it, but it shouldn’t have taken as long as it did.”

The university also admitted the situation could have been handled better.

“We always hope for clarity. We did reach an agreement,” Murphy said. “I guarantee that it won’t happen again. We look in the rearview mirror and things look a lot clearer sometimes.”

Linden can be reached at klinden@campustimes.org.



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