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January 7, 1999

Negotiations continue between Pitt, Johnstown campus custodians

Contract negotiations continue between the University and the Johnstown campus service workers union, according to representatives of both sides. But at the latest bargaining session, held Dec. 17, negotiations took a step backward, said John Greeno, Pitt's assistant vice chancellor for employee/labor relations and the University's chief negotiator. "I'm disappointed at the union's latest proposal, which in effect reopens an issue that we believed agreement had been reached on," Greeno said, referring to health care benefit proposals.

Billy Joe Jordan, president of Local 29, disagreed with Greeno's assessment. "This is not reopening anything. We've had the same position all along. Our people are used to a package deal, where [health care] benefits are paid for. We think $48 a month for family [coverage] and $31 for individual [coverage] is too much to pay," Jordan said.

Jordan said the union is asking Pitt to pay 65 percent of premiums over the CORE payment, which is the contract term for the amount of money the University contributes to any health care package. According to Greeno, the current CORE payment is $370 a month for faculty and staff family coverage, regardless of health care provider. Employees are responsible for costs above the CORE contribution, he said. The current UPJ custodial contract proposal designates Pittsburgh Building Owners Welfare Fund (PBOWF) as sole provider for the employees' health care benefits, to which both sides have agreed. The PBOWF package includes dental and vision coverage.

The University has paid full health care coverage to UPJ workers through the last contract and including the time since the contract's expiration, according to Greeno. Greeno said the University is willing to pay a maximum of 65 percent of any PBOWF rate increases in addition to the CORE payment, beginning January 1999. "We feel comfortable that the offer on the table is very fair in light of all the factors: compensation for other staff; compensation for Oakland Local 29 [workers]; and comparison with other workers' [wages and benefits] for the Johnstown area in similar jobs," Greeno said. "There's no justifiable reason to pay them a premium for what similar people in similar jobs get." Wages are at issue in the negotiations as well, according to Jordan. The union is asking for an $800 signing bonus and a 3.5 percent raise retroactive to July 1998, and then a $350 bonus awarded July 1, 1999 with a 3 percent raise for fiscal years 2000 and 2001, Jordan said.

Greeno said that, at the last session, the University came prepared to up its proposal regarding cash payments, which he declined to specify. "But the union's counterproposal actually – when you do the math – amounts to an overall increase in the University's contributions [from the previous bargaining proposals]. And we're sending a letter to that effect to the union leadership," Greeno said. "Their proposal is not Ĺ’movement.' It is counterproductive." Both sides have agreed on the length of the contract, which, if ratified, would run until June 30, 2001. Negotiators have been meeting about every two or three weeks, Greeno said. The next session is scheduled for Jan. 14. "Our goal is still the same, to reach a contract agreement," Greeno said. "But I was disappointed in the last meeting, I will say that." Jordan said, " I'm very discouraged at this point. The union leadership is reviewing the proposals now, but I'm just not sure what will happen. We'll talk to our people and see how they feel." Local 29 of the Service Employees International Union, AFL-CIO, in Johnstown represents 52 service workers on the UPJ campus. Johnstown service workers have been working without a contract since July 1, 1997.

-Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 31 Issue 9

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