Employees’ accept new agreement with fair share

Nicole Stempak

Newly hired skilled trade workers at Kent State will be required to either become a union member or pay a fair share fee after 60 days of employment.

Current non-union employees in food service, housekeeping, custodial service and building and grounds may soon be next.

Under the new three-year contract between Kent State and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 153 (the union representing these workers), once the union reaches 50 percent plus one of total employee membership, the fair share clause will go into effect.

AFSCME President David Schuckert said the union is very close to reaching that status, and he will have to count the number of all new hires after Oct. 1, 2008, when the previous contract expired.

Kent State and AFSCME jointly announced their agreement on a new three-year contract Feb. 26.

“I would say that everyone is pleased about the fair share part because for years they have been paying (grievance) fees,” he said. “For years, a portion of the bargaining unit was paying fees for everyone.”

He said the union is required to pay and represent all employees who file a grievance, whether they are union members or not, under Ohio bargaining law.

Schuckert said the fair share agreement was important because it will strengthen the union at its next negotiation. The union will next focus on pay equalization.

“All of the trades are making less here than they would at other universities,” Schuckert said. “In fact, we’ve lost a lot of our trade workers to the University of Akron and the city of Akron already.”

For example, Schuckert said an electrician makes $14 an hour at Kent State whereas he could make $16 at the University of Akron.

A fact-finder was hired to examine the fairness of both sides of the contract. He issued a report, which both sides approved.

According to his report, while some Kent State job classifications may be behind similar classifications at other Ohio public universities, this is not the time to make up those differences.

“In these economic times, people need to pull together and look out for each other,” Schukert said.

Schuckert said anyone who is not a member cannot attend union meetings, vote or run for office. To join, he said workers should contact their local steward.

The contract will cost the university just over $900,000.

The costs were within the university’s budget expectations, said James McElroy, director of equal opportunity, affirmative action, labor relations and employer relations. He said he thinks the agreement is an amount of money that’s fair to both sides.

Employees will receive a 3 percent salary increase each year for the next three years. They will not see an increase in the cost of health benefits in 2009, but there will be a 2 percent increase in the cost of health benefits each of the last two years.

The wage and benefit package is similar to the proposals accepted by both faculty unions and extended to other non-unionized staff last fall.

Willis Walker, vice president of human resources and chief university counsel, said he thinks the agreement is consistent with what both parties had been talking about.

“We were happy we both reached the same conclusion about it and can move on with this agreement for the next three years,” he said.

The terms of the contract will be implemented immediately, and the salary increase will be retroactive to Oct. 1, 2008. Negotiations between the university and AFSCME began last summer.

Contact administration reporter Nicole Stempak at [email protected].