Posted by Andrew Cantor
On Sept. 26, the Service Employees International Union Local 200United, which represents 144 college Dining Services, mechanic, maintenance, facilities, post office and stablehand employees, narrowly passed a labor contract with a vote of 56 to 55. Through the new contract negotiations, several benefits for senior employees were eliminated to cover owed health insurance costs. Thirty-four eligible employees did not vote.
In the previous contract, effective June 1, 2007 through May 31, 2010, unionized employees were personally responsible for increased costs in heath insurance. Their plan, the 1199SEIU Greater New York Benefit Fund, increased by 1.75 percent in the past year, which rendered an owed $150,000 from the union members.
Administrators in the health plan demanded the owed money in the next six months, and instead of each unionized employee paying monthly fees of $150 to $180, the union and college negotiated to eliminate several senior benefits to cover the deficit.
The senior benefits, a retirement allowance which pays retired employees of 25 and 30 years, 8 weeks and 10 weeks salary after retirement, respectively, was eliminated, along with a yearly $300 service recognition bonus for employees who have worked 25 years and more.
Approximately 18 employees were eligible for the senior benefits. Many of these senior employees are displeased with the negotiations.
"The senior people here gave up the most in the contract," said Jimmy Potter, Maintenance Mechanic Lead, an employee for 31 years. "It's unfair because if you calculate the new contract in dollar amounts, the seniors sacrificed the most."
"I just feel very disrespected," said Karen Stevens, an employee in Burgess Café who has worked at the college for 34 years. "We earned these benefits and now they're gone because some of the younger employees were afraid of losing their health insurance."
"The [senior] benefits have been in my contract for 31 years and they were here when the union started," Potter said.
The union chairman and negotiator on-campus, Chuck Ure, baker, an employee of nearly 33 years, was not pleased with the negotiations, but said he needed to sacrifice the needs of a few for the larger group.
"I don't know if it's the way I was raised or the values I've learned along the way, but I had to put everyone else's interests above my own," Ure said. "I was eligible for all the senior benefits, and I would like to see all of them come back in future contracts."
Ure mentioned he would continue to research options to restore the previous benefits in the new contract, which will expire May 31, 2013. He also said he would explore the possibility of amending the current contract to grandfather old benefits.
The college, however, will not entertain an amendment. According to Barbara Beck, associate vice president for Finance and Administration and director of Human Resources, an amendment to the contract would require renegotiation of every single clause in the agreement, which will occur anyway upon new contract negotiation in three years. Ure, conversely, said it may be possible to isolate a single clause in the contract to renegotiate.
Beck is also disappointed senior employees lost their benefits, but said the negotiations were finalized and the college respects senior employees.
"We did the best with the resources we had, and I believe we were creative with the outcome," Beck said. "We respect all employees, whether union, faculty or staff. We recognize employees with 25 years of service with a very expensive Skidmore chair or rocking chair … I do respect these employees."
Beck also mentioned that the college met the union pension and salary requirements.
"We were very generous with the pension and salary in relation to other, similar schools in the area," Beck said.
The new contract which has been signed by the college, will become effective immediately once the union business manager in Syracuse signs the contract.
"The negotiations were tough," Ure said. "The vote was the closest I've seen in my 33 years here."