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July 10, 2003

Pitt service workers sign 3-year contract

Pitt service workers agreed to a three-year contract June 26, but the employees’ union said the fight for affordable health care benefits, a sore spot during contract negotiations, isn’t over.

Pitt’s 400 service employees, which include cleaners, movers, groundskeepers and pool operators, are members of Local 585, Division 29 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) AFL-CIO. They had been working on monthly contract extensions since the last three-year deal expired Dec. 31, 2002.

“This contract is the best contract for the service workers at Pitt in 10 years,” said Gabe Morgan, building service director for Division 29. “The wage increases will protect our members from the increase in health care costs for the next year … but that fight is clearly not over.”

Pitt agreed to wage increases for the service workers of 3.5 percent (retroactive to Jan. 1, 2003); 2.5 percent beginning in January 2004, and 3 percent for the year 2005.

During the six-month negotiations, the workers held several protests over the cost of UPMC Health Plan options offered by Pitt to all employees. Union officials complained that their members’ most popular health care choice — family coverage — was rising by 74 percent in comparison to the health plan options offered by the University in recent years.

The new UPMC Health Plan agreement, which went into effect July 1, is for one year.

“In general, I think our members are satisfied with the new contract,” said SEIU spokesperson Tom Hoffman, although he declined to reveal the ratification vote totals. “It does give us wages to help offset the huge increases in family health coverage — for a while. But by next year, who knows? Affordable health care is not just a problem at Pitt or for our union. This is a national problem. We expect candidates running for president to make this a national priority issue and our national union has made it its top priority.”

Hoffman added that he was encouraged by the outside support for the union’s protests during the protracted negotiations, including by several members of the Pennsylvania state legislature.

He said the Pitt service workers have no specific plans regarding health care coverage except to continue to support the Downtown SEIU Division 29 service workers, whose contract expires Oct. 31.

—Peter Hart

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