September 12, 2012

As Living Costs Soar, New Contract Gives Cornell Staff At Least 3-Percent Raise

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Amid a rise in living costs in Tompkins County, Cornell employees received between a three to 3.5-percent raise for the last three years of their new four-year contract, which was approved this summer. All employees also received a wage increase of 46 cents per hour during the first year of the new contract, according to Jack Kaminsky, president of the UAW Local 2300.

Meanwhile, the wage a full-time worker in the county had to earn in 2011 to afford the cost of living — $11.67 per hour — rose five percent from 2010, according to the Alternatives Federal Credit Union.

The University and the United Auto Workers Local 2300 — the union that represents the majority of unionized Cornell employees — settled a tentative agreement on June 29, a day before the previous employee contract expired, according to Alan Mittman ’71, director of the Office of Workforce Policy and Labor Relations.

Employees in the two lowest wage rates received slightly higher wage increases by percentage, Mittman said, to reflect the fact that they are on “the lowest edge of the wage scale.”

Despite the raises, Pattie Gordinier, lead coordinator of facilities services in Cascadilla Hall, said the new contract does not increases wages “nearly enough” to meet employees’ needs.

“I don’t believe that they gave us enough,” she said. “We do not even have enough of a raise [to match the] cost of living.”

Given the recession’s impact on Cornell employees, Kaminsky said wage increases were “probably the number one concern” for the union.

“During the last contract, the University was experiencing hardship due to the market collapse,” Kaminsky said. “We wanted to make some ground on the wages, which we did.”

Although the union negotiated wage increases, Gordinier said that they are not sufficient. They are an important factor in why she does not support the terms of the new contract, she said.

Kaminsky, however, said that “in general, the bargaining unit members were pretty happy about the contract, as the vote to ratify has shown.”

Still, the contract guarantees the University that employees will not strike, which is “different from other contracts” negotiated by unions across the globe, according to Greg Halkiopoulos, an employee at the Amit Bhatia Libe Cafe.

“My opinion about the whole contract is very negative,” he said. “Here, the workers are not allowed to strike.”

Another change resulting from the negotiations is that the University has extended its employees’ contracts, which will last four years instead of the three it previously covered. Kaminsky said employees’ contracts were extended to try to provide them more job security.

“With not knowing what’s going on with the economy and the country, we were looking for a bit of a longer contract just for security,” Kaminsky said.

Mittman said that throughout the negotiations for the new contract, negotiators also discussed career development and increased workload –– issues that many employees addressed in a University-wide survey in 2011.

“We talked a lot about [career development] and we re-emphasized the University’s commitment to the [Community Learning and Service Partnership] program,” Mittman said, referring to a University program that helps employees learn English, acquire computer skills and prepare to pass the GED test.

A sub-council representing employees of the School of Hotel Administration also raised concerns about fair workloads, Mittman said.

“[The negotiations] included some work on the room assignments for housekeepers [at the Statler Hotel] in order to try to make that as reasonable as possible given the business requirements,” he said.

Additionally, negotiators agreed to give priority to former employees applying to new positions at the University after taking a leave of absence for a short-term disability. Whereas previously, if an employee had to take a leave for more than six months, he or she would lose his or her job, under the new contract, the University will give special consideration to such employees re-applying for jobs, Kaminsky said.

“What the University and the UAW agreed to was that people who lose their positions in that way would be able to apply to the University, and based on their past work record … be considered higher than someone who has had no work experience at Cornell,” Kaminsky said.

Although the University and the UAW settled several issues throughout the negotiations, the parties decided to postpone deciding how to fairly handle summer employment for Cornell employees — some of whom, Kaminsky said, are laid off when there are fewer jobs in the summer and winter.

Overall, Kaminsky and Mittman agreed that the negotiations were “smooth” and “in good faith.”

“We came to a fair and equitable agreement after good faith bargaining that agreed upon by the University and the membership,” Mittman said.

But according to Halkiopoulos, the contract is “too employer-friendly.”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that a majority of Cornell employees belong to UAW Local 2300. In fact, the majority of Cornell’s unionized employees belong to the union.

Original Author: Manu Rathore