Temple’s members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union are lashing out against their negotiation team after going without a pay raise for more than a year and a half.
AFSCME union’s contract expired Oct. 31, 2007. AFSCME consists of more than 750 campus professional and technical employees, including laboratory managers, programmers, analysts and accountants.
“This is very frustrating for employees because we have no power or say. Both the university and AFSCME are at fault for not compromising,” an AFSCME member said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “There are people who would like the current contract to be signed and move forward rather than keep waiting. We’re concerned that this could continue for a year or more, which is very discouraging in this economic climate.”
Throughout the course of the past few weeks, AFSCME members have been voicing their disdain with the union on a listserv created by the university.
Paul Dannenfelser, president of AFSCME, said the listserv is distracting.
“Members are trying to do their jobs and get work done, and they’re being bombarded with e-mails,” he said.
Many of the e-mails were sent anonymously, he said, although a source familiar with the listserv said many more AFSCME members voiced displeasure while using their actual names.
George Moore, university counsel, said the university initially sent out a communication on its listserv in response to inquiries from AFSCME members regarding the status of negotiations.
“When it became clear that AFSCME members were using the listserv to communicate amongst themselves, the university did not believe it was appropriate to interfere,” he said. “The university did not encourage or intervene in those discussions. AFSCME members have First Amendment rights to talk to their colleagues and share opinions. This is consistent with the usual exchanges of ideas on a university campus.”
Dannenfelser said Temple is not negotiating in good faith.
“They really want an anti-union atmosphere. They’re using tactics that are questionable in legality and ethics,” he said. “Most members didn’t even know that it’s a university listserv. It’s not a union listserv.”
Last fiscal year’s final proposal was made to the union on May 19, 2008, said Sharon Boyle, assistant vice president of labor and employee relations. This included a pay increase scheduled to take effect in November 2008.
She said AFSCME was asked to take the proposal to its members in order to obtain a vote. However, the union failed to obtain a vote and did not schedule another meeting with the university’s negotiating team.
“The membership calls for a vote, not management,” Dannenfelser said.
“Since [November] came and went, we met again Dec. 18 to touch base,” said Boyle, a university negotiating team member. “There is still no movement, but we’ve said that we’re open to listening.”
“I would certainly like to come to an agreement,” Dannenfelser said. “The university needs to negotiate and not dictate to us.”
Because AFSCME did not accept the contract, the previous offer of giving members retroactive pay for the 2007-2008 fiscal year is no longer on the table, Boyle said.
Dannenfelser said they want “an across-the-board raise and merit pay on top of that and fair-share pay.”
Fair-share means all members of the bargaining unit would be required to pay dues. The university, however, maintains that 85 percent of the bargaining unit must already pay dues in order for it to require that the remaining 15 percent do so.
Between 60 percent and 65 percent of the bargaining unit currently pays dues, Dannenfelser said.
AFSCME member Beverly Frantz, coordinator of the criminal justice initiative in Disabilities, said she has been trying to leave the union since the contract expired. She was told she could only leave the union if she had given notice 15 days prior to the end of the contract, she said.
Frantz said she then began trying to work with the executive board of AFSCME on broadening that.
“There should be some kind of means to allow members to leave,” Frantz said. “The contract really forces you to stay in the union. I can’t imagine why someone would want someone in the union who doesn’t want to be. It’s not even the money, it’s the head count. If someone decided now that they wanted to leave the union, they could end up waiting four or five years. They would have to wait for the contract that hasn’t even been settled to then expire. It’s forced membership. There needs to be a way for members to leave the union in a respectful way.”
“They need to meet with the membership and keep us abreast on a weekly basis,” another anonymous AFSCME member said. “I’m unhappy because we’re not allowed to know exactly what is going on.”
“We haven’t put out specifics as to numbers because we feel they shouldn’t be in public,” Dannenfelser said. “They should be at the negotiating table.”
Dannenfelser said they have communicated with the membership through brown bag lunches and six letters throughout negotiations. He said they personally met with more than 250 members and solicited input prior to negotiations. He said they also always respond to members’ phone calls and e-mails.
Negotiations began in September 2007, and Dannenfelser has been the president of AFSCME since January 2007. Elections are held every three years.
According to UnionFacts.com, the president of Temple’s AFSCME makes approximately $21,330 per year in addition to his salary. This statistic was recorded in 2006.
Dannenfelser said he shares the feelings of bargaining unit members about not having a pay increase. AFSCME has not, however, submitted a proposal to the university since early in the negotiations, he said.
“They know what it will take,” he said.
Non-dues-paying members have voiced complaints on the listserv about being harassed by dues-paying members to join the union.
Frantz said she had a similar experience upon beginning her job at Temple.
“I’m not against unions,” Frantz said. “They play an important part in the economy, and we need them, but I don’t want to be a part of this union. I don’t think the union knows how to negotiate without bullying tactics and threats and badmouthing. That’s not the way you negotiate in the 21st century.
“I don’t see it doing anything except hurting me, and it’s costing me much more money to be in the union because we haven’t gotten pay increases. I understand that the university can be difficult, but I think they’ve been fair with what they’ve offered.”
Kathryn A. López can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.