The NMU Board of Trustees approved a contract last week between the university and an NMU labor union after approximately a year of negotiations.
The contract between NMU and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 1094 was approved unanimously by the five present members during a Sept. 7 Board meeting. The new agreement replaces the 2007-10 AFSCME contract, which was extended in October 2010 to cover about 130 NMU AFSCME employees, in areas such as Public Safety, Dining Services and grounds and maintenance during negotiations.
Ann Sherman, director of human services at NMU and lead negotiator for the university, said one reason this contract negotiation lasted for roughly a year was the bargaining committees implemented an interest-based process, which she said allowed both sides to communicate and focus on issues of importance for their respective groups.
“You do a lot more joint-conversation and exploration of possibilities, so it takes a bit longer,” Sherman said.
Some of the changes made in the new contract are related to employee health care plans. Sherman said there was an increase from 11 percent, or $1,500, to 20 percent, or $2,400, to the amount that employees contribute to their health care. Sherman also said the university is funding a health care reimbursement account that allows employees access to an annual sum of $750, the unused portion of which rolls over, for health related expenditures.
“The motivation was to help ease employees into the 20 percent requirement for co-share contributions,” Sherman said. “(The account) helps to bridge that gap.”
The new contract, which runs through September of 2014, also featured a freeze on employee wages for its duration. Jeff Smith, a facilities maintenance attendant for Housing and Residence Life and the president of AFSCME Local 1094, said this is the first time he’s seen the union members’ wages frozen for three consecutive years. Smith said the financial hardships currently facing the state and its public universities have had a definite impact on contract negotiations.
“(This) was the worst contract year for bargaining for us because of the economic crisis in Michigan,” Smith said. “I’ve been on a lot of bargaining committees and I’ve never seen Michigan in as bad of shape as this.”
The contract allows for an economic reopener in its final two years, which either party can initiate.
“The reopener works for both sides. Primarily, it’s (related to) the economic condition of the state,” Smith said. “If it improves, we may want to reopen for increases in wages or benefits. If it gets worse, the university may want to reopen to renegotiate those wages and benefits.”
Cindy Paavola, NMU’s director of Communications and Marketing, said that because of challenges facing university, like decreasing appropriations to higher education funding, it’s important that NMU and AFSCME were able to reach an agreement.
“…There is a lot of work on all sides that go into completing new employee contracts. It’s always good when the university and its employees come to an agreement on a contract,” she said.