by K. D. Swan
AFSCME Local 698 (technical) and 3700 (clerical) employees at UIUC represent more than 1,500 who have worked without a contract since last August. Contract talks have dragged nearly a year. The management bargaining team’s typical responses include only repeating “no” and spouting redundant inanities. The management team often declares their need to consult outside “decision makers”; it is curious why these experts are not at the table. Frequently these consults are not actually made so contract issues are deferred. Management’s communication has become increasingly passive-aggressive.
Recently management suggested mediation; AFSCME’s response was that additional negotiation meetings were needed before mediation would be appropriate. AFSCME is still moving forward on management requests and economic counter proposals. As management seems focused on mediation, it is a distraction to working negotiations. Both sides are frustrated but management needs to put due diligence into the process, to improve communications, and to show respect.
Management repeats these mantras as offers: “we are broke” and “campus wage program.” Their intent is that AFSCME rate increases should match all other campus employee increases and contracts. This matching may save administration time and money but it contradicts the nature and intent of contract bargaining. Additionally, union workers’ contracts are often all that pushes administration to give any raise at all to non-union workers. One example of a benefit fought and won by unions later extended to non-union employees was parking rates based on income levels. Unions on this campus are all that prevents the administration from grabbing an ever-larger portion of the resource pie.
Overall, management’s negotiation tactics with AFSCME are similar to contract talks with other unions. As negotiations continue, management stalls, slows responses, and consults often with outsiders. Negotiations have become more negative. Many on union teams note management is less efficient, less respectful, and far less professional. The current University Corporation is more interested in dissolving unions, in reducing the power of contract rights and negotiation authority, than in working fairly and collaboratively. Management does not want union employees to have an equal seat at the table. They have a bias against unions and their members. This is demonstrated frequently in contract talks by management’s words and behaviors. It is difficult to come to agreement when one side is using unprofessional tricks and insulting communication.
Employees are long overdue for wage increases, improvement in their work conditions, and fair contracts. Local 698 has been without a contracted base increase for several years, having received only sign-on bonuses without addition to their salary base. The majority of these employees do not earn the national average income. Management insists they do not have a budget sufficient to afford adjustments or base increases for the lowest paid employees. In the first year, management insists on a small across the board increase with many strings attached to deny many employees other earned and contracted increases, yet management has given double-digit raises to many on the management team for taking on additional duties. Many AFSCME employees have taken on additional duties yet there have been no increases. Their units have merged, they have taken on more work, their co-workers have retired and they were still expected to do more with less.
It ought not to be surprising that AFSCME members not trust this administration when there is a double standard, one for administrators themselves and one for union employees.
AFSCME members do not believe that the University cannot afford fair increases for the lowest paid employees. Management refuses to give comparable market wages to some, they refuse to give professional credentials to others, and they refuse to give our members longevity increases earned by others. They also refuse to increase starting rates which are too low compared to current outside market rates.
Over the last few months, members have voiced their concern in two rallies. The first was in reaction to management not showing up for scheduled negotiations. This was a visible show of disrespect to the process and to employees. This “misunderstanding” on management’s part occurred as AFSCME attempted to counter the university’s insulting economic offers for employees. AFSCME held a second rally June 18 in direct response to management’s continued stalling and “say no” tactics. Management is not negotiating but delaying, procrastinating and refusing to provide information. They use verbal harangues during negotiations to distract from the process and their responsibilities. Some members of the management team have demonstrated a pattern of arriving late and leaving early, with some barely attending even as their issues are on the table. This is disrespectful to the process and to the AFSCME team. It shows that management is not taking talks seriously.
Management’s offers to AFSCME employees have been pitiful in contrast to administrators’ pay that continues to climb. Tens of thousands have been given for individual administrator increases. In the past, there were several generous severance agreements given to inept or even corrupt administrators. Such decisions are insulting to union employees as management insists the university cannot afford more than paltry increases for them, even after so much has been thrown at corruption and repeated administrative mistakes. Management respects ex-President Hogan’s need for a robust contract as he leaves in disgrace, yet they take advantage of AFSCME workers’ long and diligent work record for the university.
Still the management team reminds AFSCME that administration and faculty are quite different from the common worker, that the elites’ reputation requires superior rewards. AFSCME responds that a stellar faculty and administration requires a superior staff, and that UIUC’s staff is just that. This support staff, the front line employees, possess superior skills, experience, and often higher education that command much more than management is offering them. Management can afford to pay off corruption and disgraced administrators; why can’t they pay their dedicated workforce fairly? This superior AFSCME staff deserves respect and income security; they have sacrificed for the university long enough.
AFSCME employees work diligently for their non-extravagant salaries; they will not receive ultra- comfortable pensions and they will not receive social security. Moreover, the state is daily attacking their retirement security and benefits. AFSCME has presented salary comparisons for classifications that management simply ignored, despite requesting them. It is ironic that management continues to cite “superior benefits” of the university as justification for the low salaries for Local 698 workers.
Management recently told the AFSCME contract team that the university “could not afford to subsidize the longevity increases of its aging workforce” in reference to AFSCME employees. Yet they are able to afford increases for an aging faculty and administration. Why are much lower paid union members facing disrespect and discriminatory treatment? Administrators are the university’s version of the 1%. Management is in essence saying to the AFSCME contract team “just let them eat cake.”
AFSCME employees have been insulted and they are justifiably angry. They will make sure the administration hears their voices and sees their indignation. They want bread and roses. The administration can have their cake; just make sure it is devil’s food.
AFSCME negotiating team member
Local 698 website manager & steward for library employee group
Local 698 Website: https://sites.google.com/site/local698afscme/