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June 14, 2001

UPJ service workers, Pitt settle contract

Beginning July 1, Johnstown campus service workers will join the UPMC Health Plan under a new contract agreement with the University. The workers agreed to the provisions of Pitt's "core" health benefits payment structure, which had been a stumbling block in the protracted contract negotiations.

The 52 service workers had been without a contract since July 1, 1997, working under contract extensions. The workers are members of Local 585, Division 29, of the Service Employees International Union, AFL-CIO.

Under the new agreement, ratified in March by a 2:1 margin, service workers agreed to participate in the UPMC Health Plan options, some of which require employee contributions. The University contributes a standardized amount of money, or core payment, to employee health benefits based on the employee's selected option.

Pitt had paid full health care coverage to Johnstown workers since the previous contract's 1997 expiration, which preceded Pitt's current contract with UPMC Health Plan as its sole provider. The UPMC contract went into effect July 1, 2000.

According to Mike Salmon, Local 585's chief negotiator, the service workers will receive retroactive pay raises, including a hike of 2.5 percent beginning in September 1999; 3.0 percent effective July 1, 2000, and 2.5 percent effective Jan. 1, 2001. Only workers who were on the payroll at the time of the raises are eligible for the pay increases.

The agreement calls for a raise of 3 percent July 1, 2001, and 3 percent July 1, 2002. The workers also received a $1,400 lump sum payment, Salmon said.

The contract runs until June 30, 2003.

"The increases built the wages to a wage rate that attempts to make up for the long time without a contract," Salmon said. "The members didn't like the fact that they would have to pick up medical payments, but given that it was the best they could do, they were satisfied under these conditions."

The University had issued an ultimatum to the workers in September 1999, saying it would not budge from the core payment requirement. (See University Times, October 28, 1999.)

Under a policy formalized in 1998, Pitt established the core payment structure for all employee health coverage. The University argued that the Johnstown service workers were the only employees, other than individuals in an HMO plan, who do not contribute to University-provided health coverage.

According to John Greeno, assistant vice chancellor for employee and labor relations and Pitt's negotiator, "We're very pleased to have come to a successful resolution on this and that we were able to do it without a work stoppage."

–Peter Hart

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