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March 5, 2015

Contract talks with service workers continue

Contract negotiations are set to continue March 12 between the University and representatives of its service workers union.

Approximately 400 custodians, mechanics, groundskeepers and maintenance workers represented by Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 32BJ are working under an extension to the contract that expired in December.

Pay and health care costs are the big issues on the table, said Sam Williamson, SEIU district director, describing the negotiating sessions as “very tense.” Three sessions are on the calendar this month, he said.

Workers are seeking a 3.7 percent increase, “the lowest percentage given to the highest-paid,” Williamson said, alluding to University officers’ fiscal year 2015 pay increases of 3.7-7 percent. (See Dec. 4, 2014, University Times.) Similarly, faculty pay increases averaged about 4 percent, Williamson said.

The union also seeks to address workers’ ability to pay for health care. “Members have obviously seen costs of living rise and health care has gotten more expensive,” Williamson said, adding that Pitt’s health insurance contributions aren’t adjusted for income level.

“Employees earning $30,000 pay the same as administrators who make a half-million dollars,” he said. “It doesn’t seem fair.”

The union, which is working to organize security guards at Pitt and elsewhere in the city, was among the sponsors of a Feb. 26 income equality forum on campus.

Pitt historically has been viewed as a good employer, Williamson said. “We want them to continue to show leadership across the city and invest in workers at every level of the University,” he said.

Ken Service, vice chancellor for communications, declined to comment on the negotiations.

—Kimberly K. Barlow