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December 10, 1998

Union will file grievance over changes in custodians' shifts

Custodians this week are re-selecting job assignments as part of a plan Pitt says will increase the quality of custodial service. But the custodians' union plans to file a formal grievance over the changes.

According to Local 29 union secretary-treasurer and business agent Nelson Bryant, "We will be filing a grievance and we've made the University aware of that." The plan, which will result in three-quarters of the custodians working non-daylight hours, is expected to go into effect Dec. 21. Ana Guzman, associate vice chancellor for Facilities Management, said, "Changes in the level of custodial service in any given building will be hardly noticeable [by faculty and staff]. If anything, they will see levels of service improve." All units currently serviced by custodians during the day will continue to have daytime service unless they request a switch, Guzman said.

Beginning Dec. 9 and continuing through today, custodians are choosing positions based on their seniority and job classification.

Bryant said, "We're asking union members to file an individual grievance form [during the job selection process] with their shop steward, but that is voluntary. We are also asking them to comply with whatever Pitt says to do. We are going through the proper channels and asking for arbitration under the language of the contract." Pitt custodians are members of Local 29 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), AFL-CIO, which reached a contract agreement with the University last August. Of the 201 custodial staff members, 63 currently work shifts other than daylight. When the new system is implemented, about 150 custodians will work non-daylight hour shifts, either 4 p.m. – 12:30 a.m. or 11 p.m. – 7 a.m. For the approximately 50 custodians who will remain on daylight, the shift will change to 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., from the current 6 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.

"We feel many workers are disgruntled, based on changes in lifestyle that will come about from the shift changes," Bryant said. "Bidding for jobs is normally under the category of a vacancy. But these are not vacancies. We feel this is a restructuring and we'd like an arbitrator to decide whether the contract allows Pitt to do this," he said.

John Greeno, assistant vice chancellor for employee/labor relations, who led the University's bargaining team in discussions with the union, said, "I'm surprised at this. We met with the union leadership on Sept. 28 and again on Oct. 12 and again, this time with most of the shop stewards there too, on Dec. 2. They did not challenge the decision then. In fact, Mr. Bryant acknowledged that these positions were covered under the contract as vacancies during our discussions. I challenge Mr. Bryant to point to any part of the contract that says we can't restructure." Bryant said that his union will ask Pitt to waive two levels of the grievance process in favor of moving the grievance to an arbitrator. Under contractual terms, Level I grievances are handled between individuals who file a grievance and their supervisors, and Level II grievances are between University and union representatives. Level III grievances involve an outside arbitrator agreed upon by both sides.

Billy Joe Jordan, Local 29 president, said, "The University should have more consideration for its workers. There is no evidence that they need to make this change. They are upsetting stability, lowering morale and causing more problems [than they're solving]." Jordan said a majority of workers endorse the class action grievance. He said the request to move directly to an outside arbitrator had more to do with the seriousness of the complaint than with a speedy resolution.

Greeno responded, "Regarding Mr. Jordan's statements, he relies on no contractual terms whatsoever in his criticisms. "I'm also disappointed," Greeno said. "We were bargaining in good faith. I feel this is second-guessing [the decision to implement the plan]." Greeno said that if a grievance is filed, it would go to arbitration, which is what usually happens in these cases. "I'm sure some members may be disgruntled about this, but it is the University's right under the labor agreement [to implement this plan]," Greeno said. "We listened to the concerns of the union, we even made some adjustments. We delayed the bidding process twice, because they said there were some aspects of the process they wanted to review and we agreed to move the late-shift hours from midnight to 8, to 11 to 7, at their request." Guzman said the goals of the plan are to increase efficiency of custodial staff, correct imbalances in workload, reduce disruption in public areas during the day and introduce more efficient and cost-effective heavy-duty cleaning equipment, better suited for off-hours. "We had a study done by Environmental Services Consultants, from Nashville, Tenn., customized to Pitt," Guzman said. "We found a lack of consistency in certain areas. Some were serviced better than others. We're using industry standards, for time of cleaning and that sort of thing, and we're establishing better quality control. We're also having training for all custodians, for example, on the use of chemicals and heavy machinery, and managers, so we're sure they understand the quality standards of their jobs and have the skills," she said. Quality standards will be checked by random reviews, Guzman said. The new system is based not only on the area to be covered, but also on the complexity of the job, which is expected to more fairly distribute the work. Andy Motto, manager of custodial services, pointed to the new system's flexibility. "Individual departments can choose if they want to continue the daylight custodial service," Motto said. Non-daylight shifts are potentially less disruptive for a department, he said.

Units that opt for non-daylight cleaning service will have to provide custodians with keys and security codes for access during evening and night shifts. "Most of the changes for the custodial staff will be work done in public areas, such as classrooms, corridors, elevators and restrooms," Motto said. The increasing reliance on heavy cleaning machinery is better suited to non-daylight hours, he said. Most project work, such as carpet cleaning, floor stripping and waxing and wall washing, will continue to be done during non-daylight shifts, Motto said. Other elements of the plan include: € All special events scheduled during the day will continue to be fully staffed by custodians.

€ Public areas to be serviced during non-daylight shifts will be "policed" for trash removal and re-stocking of supplies during the day.

€ All custodial-related emergencies will continue to be responded to by calling 624-9500.

€ There will be a pool of workers who will be assigned to cover for vacations, scheduled time off and absences of workers within their classification and shift.

"It's hard to say at the moment how big a Œrelief pool' we'll need," Motto said. "But a reasonable estimate is that 15 percent of the total staff will be part of it. In the past, in the event of vacation time, other workers have had to cover positions in addition to doing their own job. Now, relief pool members will cover jobs, on a one-to-one replacement basis, for a week at a time or whatever the time-off is, to ensure continuing service." Relief pool workers will not be asked to change shifts, though, once their shifts are established, Motto said. All full-time union employees are scheduled for five consecutive work days (not necessarily Monday-Friday) with the same two days off each week, under contract terms. There are 363 members of Local 29 at the Oakland campus. Non-custodial workers, such as groundskeepers, will not be affected under the custodial plan.

Motto said that he expected some upheaval among workers, "because change is always difficult to deal with. But I sincerely hope we don't lose any staff over this. We have a great staff in place. I'm hoping for patience." The average custodial worker has about nine years of service to the University, according to Motto.

Guzman added that custodial workers may find that they're doing their jobs better at night with less disruption than during the day. Facilities Management has established a custodial hotline for information about the new plan. Inquiries should be directed to Kirsten Erickson at 624-5683; or by sending e-mail to:

-Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 31 Issue 8

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