Union Dissent

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 kathryn.lopez@temple.edu.

13 Comments

  1. This is an extremely one-sided article, not mentioning any of us who are supportive members of AFSCME and who also engaged in the listserv discussion. Regarding the listserv and the university administration’s claim that they did not “intervene” in the discussion — the listserv is owned, operated and moderated by them. Those of us who posted pro-union messages waited hours to see our messages posted to the list, while those who were ranting against the union had their messages posted immediately. Furthermore, some of the anonymous posters — all anti-union — were abusive and defamatory in their postings, and yet the listserv moderator allowed such postings to sail right through. Several of us attempted to discover who moderates the listserv through computer services’ listserv website only to receive messages that we weren’t “authorized” to know that. What does that tell you about the administration’s subterfuge?

    What really confounds me is the belief that some members of the bargaining unit seem to have that the University is simply dying to give us all a generous raise and benefits package and that it is somehow to the advantage of the AFSCME leadership to prevent that. What possible advantage could there be to Paul Dannenfelser or any other member of the leadership to deny all of us, including themselves, a raise?

  2. The union is stuck in a VERY difficult position, and considering the circumstances, I think they are doing well. People are afraid for their jobs and their benefits–rightly so, as the negociations have not run smoothly. I think the author in this article is expressing the viewpoint of some people who just want to see an end to this crisis. (I also know her, so I know she isn’t anti-union.)

    I support our union in its endeavors to try to find a fair contract. I’m glad to be a member and I thank them for their hard work.

  3. I found this article to be pro University and anti Union, the AFSCME listserve was strategically set up to cause dissention amongst AFSCME members, using the guise of open forum communication. I read comments on the AFSCME listserve from members who want to get out of the Union, which of course is exactly what University Management is hoping for.

    If I followed that line of thinking I would stop the monthly direct deposit contributions that I make to the University. But I won’t because I choose to support these programs for good they do for the University, the community and for me. Even as the Union supports and works for the good of its members.

    We are hard working employees who are Union members,the majority of which trust the leadership of our Union representatives. Our Union Leaders have always worked on behalf of its members to negotiate a fair contract.

    I am disheartened at the stand the University has taken against its employees,unwilling to negotiate and resolve this matter We have been without
    a contract or raise well over a year knowing full well how hard it is for the average worker to even make ends meet in todays economy.

    No, it is definitely not a time to be divided, more than ever we need to be united. I trust and support our AFSCME Union Leadership.

  4. I think that this article was one-sided. The author primarily focused on anonymous comments of unhappy members and/or non-members. I think more attention should have been focused on union members who support what AFSCME is doing for its members in the negotiating process. The union is taking a principled stand for its members and attention needs to be focused on the many who stand behind AFSCME’s leadership.

  5. This article seems to be one-sided in that it seems to assume that the problem of “no contract” rests with the union. Negotiation involves more than one party! AFSCME union members have been informed throughout the process and thus it seems we have no need to distrust our leadership.

    It takes two to negotiate so it is important that the University come back to the table to negotite.

  6. The article entitled “AFSCME Dissent” is not necessarily fair and balanced as it lacks quotes from pro-Union individuals. It is interesting that the article quoted the infamous “anonymous” sources who are too scared to use their names. AFSCME would have been equally represented if you had included interviews with pro-Union members, other than our Union president, for your article.
    As a union member, I find the university’s offer to have holes in it. That’s why I personally wouldn’t jump to accept their offer until they further define the compensation section. Under the current offer from HR, the PDP annual review would be directly linked to a person’s pay, and doing this creates an arbitrary system of compensating individuals not necessarily based on one’s merit. It could be based on how much or how little one’s supervisor likes the employee.
    The university offer is disappionting in that prior to our last contract we always received a 3 percent across-the-board annual raise. In the last contract our ANNUAL raise was reduced by the university to 2 percent. Our annual salaries are growing at a smaller rate, which creates a larger gap between the “top” and “bottom” workers yet, as a Temple employee I am proud to represent this University, my alma mater, and the community.
    Commenting on the listserv debacle, I wonder where all the “anonymous” and angry persons were when the university decreased our annual raise by 1 percent? That’s like eating other people’s leftovers after they leave the restaurant.
    My co-worker and I fear that this new compensation package would result in one of us getting “more” money and one of us getting “less” money, even though we both work equally hard in our jobs. It is difficult to believe that under the university’s offer, for example, my co-worker and I could each receive a 4 percent to 5 percent raise, because the maximum raise we ever have received in past contracts totaled 3 percent each. The pool of university money is only so large. If supervisors actually rated the majority of us so that we fell into the 4 to 5 percent raise category, wouldn’t it be expected that the university would respond to supervisors and say that TU does not have enough money to reward hard-working people with such high pay and, thus, instruct them to lower our PDP scores? It would seem that if I received a 4 percent raise, then my colleague would receive a 2 percent raise, or vice versa, because the pool of available funds is only so large. Why have other TU unions received 3 percent annual raises, yet AFSCME is expected to accept this arbitrary compensation package? If my pay is based on an annual review, then I would like HR to allow us common folk to rate the performance of our supervisors. That would be an eye-opener for supervisors who willingly or unwillingly discriminate when grading their employees.
    Besides the pay, why do non-bargaining employees start off with 3 weeks’ vacation, yet AFSCME new hires receive only 2 weeks’ vacation? Why can the spouse of a non-bargaining hire receive tuition remission yet spouses of AFSCME members do not receive the same benefit? Why can’t the university offer this union a flat across-the-board guaranteed raise so that we all are on equal footing and then give merit dollars to those deemed exceptional?
    I support the union during this time, and I ask that the university stop emailing what still is a broadly-defined offer and start specifically defining each portion of the new proposal so that we know how people’s PDP scores will determine our well-deserved raises. One AFSCME member should not gain while another hard-working member loses based on this arbitrary four-point grading system.

  7. I am emailing today in response to yesterday’s (Tuesday, March 3, 2009), Temple NEWS article’s attempt to encourage disenfranchisement, discontent, and disharmony in AFSMCE’s membership. Obviously, this was a none-too-veiled attempt driven by the University’s interests as was the listserv that it cited.

    I whole heartedly belong in my union, and have always believed in unions. I grew up in a union house, where my father walked a picket line to ensure a better life for his family. He & his fellow coworkers stood strong to receive fair & dignified treatment. It wasn’t easy, but they achieved their goals.

    I also believe in unions because they assure that the good of ALL vs. the good of a few is best served by solidarity and level-headedness. Sure, the basest of self interest can always assert itself, but with union leadership -the long term protection of the whole unit is valued over the short term, nebulous gain of a few.

    As a past member of 1199C’s negotiation team, I understand the internal workings of negotiations better than most. Let me confirm that the negotiating team is working hard, and with the single goal of betterment for the ENTIRE membership to receive fair, decent wages and benefits.

    Do not let a few grumblings of those “anonymous” sources to devalue the efforts of your AFSCME negotiating team. Stand strong behind your leadership, know that they are diligently striving to make ALL our lives better.

    IN SOLIDARITY, a proud AFSCME shop steward – a VOLUNTEER position,

    Alexis Cogan

  8. “Tell us what you’re thinking”:

    I’m thinking that neither the union leadership nor the university administration has acquitted them self very well in this negotiation. I’m thinking the listserv, and quite probably the seeding of this article, are clear attempts to divide the union membership, who become more vulnerable to these tactics month by month. I’m thinking the “offer” broadcast to membership via the listserv is another attempt to divide and conquer the union (why does it have a plan A with benefits comparable to the rest of the university and a plan B with less benefits?). I’m thinking the union leadership’s “us against them” rhetoric and toddler-like “you’re not the boss of me” responses are not moving us forward either.

    I’m thinking much less emotional and intellectual energy should be squandered on attempts to “win” this, and all parties should focus on a fair, pragmatic resolution that repairs and builds trust, providing “Access to Excellence” for the entire Temple community.

    I’m thinking we need truly independent guidance and arbitration.

  9. Mick,

    No offense, but I think you are missing the (hidden) point of the university administration’s position. It is not really about the money or the benefits. Giving every member of AFSCME an additional 1% in an across the board increase would amount to approximately $300,000 per year, a drop in the bucket of the annual budget. This is about union-busting; this is about taking the power away from the employees. This is about no guaranteed wages or benefits. This is why we’re offered attractive plan A, with all the bells and whistles, and unattractive plan B — it’s not really a choice, is it? And thus we have the current squabbling going on among the members and non-members.

    The unions created the middle class in this country. Their decreasing membership and influence have resulted in the widening income gap between those at the top and those at the bottom — a situation the Bush administration was perfectly happy with, but a situation the Obama administration is working to correct.

  10. I don’t like the tone of this article as well. I worry about an article that places that much emphasis on quotes from anonymous sources. Who are they? Could they be employees of the paper itself that influenced the content of the article? I sure hope not. Why is Paul’s compensation posted with virtually no context? Should that be done for everyone interviewed in the article? Why can’t we read an article about or opinions of AFSCME employees dissatisfied with the conduct of the university?

    There were a number of issues I found troubling with the listserv that weren’t addressed in the article. I was among the people who tried posting emails to the listserv that either were posted extremely late or never saw the light of day. As I waited and complained anonymous and defamatory emails sailed right through. Why were defamatory emails towards employees permitted from non-temple accounts? I would think this would be of great concern to the HR department, but apparently wasn’t.

    Lastly, a reminder. “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.” This doesn’t sound like an HR department falling over itself to compensate AFSCME members for the work the University ‘values’ so much. It seems a little more vindictive and divisive than that. I think people really should think long and hard about what the intentions of the administration could really be here.

  11. The listserv seems to be to be a clear violation of direct dealing laws, and the university should be punished for it. It was propaganda used by the university to break the unity in the union.

    On top of that, this article cites “unionfacts.com” which is an extreme right-wing anti-union propaganda site. That’s like citing Rush Limbaugh or Michael Moore. It’s just not a credible source of information.

    The University is clearly using whatever means necessary to break the union. That’s disgusting to me. They are not negotiating in good faith and trying to create rifts between individuals in the union. They are, in fact, breaking the law.

  12. Hello All.

    Could I be the only one noticing that the only comments posted about this article reflect a strong union sentiment? I wonder why that is….? Hmmm, maybe those ‘anonymous’ sources, and ‘poor member’ and “Temple Standing Strong” would have to IDENTIFY themselves! Easy being brave behind anonymity, courage of your convictions means being brave enough to stand behind your own name. Makes you wonder who these “voices of dissent” really are….

    Have a great weekend.

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