October 19, 2001

C.U., Union Deem Contract Grand Success

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Cornell University and the United Auto Workers Local 2300 union reached an agreement in June on a four-year contract for the University’s 1,100 service and maintenance workers. Both sides now say it is considered the most successful contract ever.

The collective agreement, which took effect on July 1, grants all of its employees a living wage, outlines a fairer method for promotions, and requires stricter drug and alcohol testing for personnel employed in safety-sensitive positions.

The agreement is based on the pay grades established four years ago. Instead of using a step system, where workers are grouped into categories based on the number of years of service, they are placed on a track with workers with similar job duties and promoted for productivity and seniority.

According to Peter Tufford, director of labor relations at Cornell, the contract was ratified by 93 percent of the employees covered, which is the largest margin of approval ever. For the first time in recent history, it was agreed upon prior to the expiration of the previous contract.

“I think it is a contract that meets the needs of both the workers covered by the agreement and the University. Each side decided not to throw things out on the table that are meaningless and won’t be agreed upon. This helped keep us all on the same page and create a solid contract,” Tufford said.

The union leadership is also happy with the results of the collective bargaining with the University.

“We hammered out the best contract possible. Cornell was with us all the way in the negotiations and we had no problems, no fights, no deadlocks,” said Brian Goodell, president of UAW Local 2300.

According to Mary Opperman, vice president of human resources, the bargaining was operated differently this year from previous contracts. For this agreement, only those who will be directly affected by the contract could attend the bargaining sessions. This meant that the press, as well as student and action groups, were not allowed at the negotiations. Opperman said that having the limited sessions allowed for more substantive bargaining.

“People who aren’t directly affected [by the contract] have views but often aren’t the views of those who will be covered by it,” Opperman said.

The University employees covered by the contract include dining staff, bus drivers, mechanics, custodial staff, couriers, printing press workers and maintenance staff.

One of the features that both the University and the union both highlighted is a five-percent pay increase over the next four years. This is the largest pay increase given to service and maintenance workers in recent history. It also gives all workers covered a living wage, as calculated by the Alternative Federal Credit Union. This was an issue for which many student and community organizations lobbied last year.

The contract also includes a strict clause pertaining to drug and alcohol abuse, in response to the TCAT bus accident on March 16, 2000 in which Michelle Evans ’01 was killed. The bus driver was convicted of criminally-negligent homicide for driving while abilities impaired.

Therefore, the contract allows random drug and alcohol testing of workers. All employees found to have a blood alcohol content (BAC) between .02 and .04 will be immediately suspended from their position and evaluated before returning to that position. All employees found to have a BAC greater than .04 or who test positive for drugs will be immediately and permanently removed from their position. According to Tufford, this is considerably stricter than is required by New York State laws.

With the success in the negotiations over this contract, the union hopes that it can have a partnership with the University and continue to build trust between the two sides.

“I see a new atmosphere here at Cornell, with the administration looking after its workers and wanting to make this the best employer possible. It is even noticeable that workers are more productive and proud to work for Cornell with all that they gained from the contract,” Goodell said.

The Cornell administration also voiced their support for this partnership.

“I hope we will have open communication with the union on all matters so there are no misunderstandings and issues that are just not addressed,” Opperman said.

Archived article by Seth Harris