UAW contract approved after lengthy negotiations

Amanda Monthei

For more than a year and a half, local UAW 1950 chapter president Michelle Kimball has, as she puts it, “exhaled union thoughts and inhaled union thoughts.”

By Wednesday, Dec. 5, after being involved in union contract negotiations since July 2011, her efforts in the campus union-—which serves the Technical and Office Professional Staff (TOPS)—materialized into a ratified contract that was eventually approved by the NMU Board of Trustees on Friday, Dec. 14.

While the resulting contract wasn’t fully what Kimball and the other members of UAW 1950 had bargained for, Kimball asserts that the negotiated terms are of benefit to her membership.

“I have to say that when I left mediation on Monday, Dec. 5, I was cranky. I was angry,” Kimball said. “We had worked so hard, and I just didn’t see how we were getting anywhere, but somewhere between Monday walking home from the mediation and Wedneday presenting the proposal to my group, I came to realize it wasn’t that bad of a contract given the time. Times are hard and the fight was meaningful on both sides.”

The approval of the new contract—which was ratified by a vote of 95-32 among union members and later approved unanimously by the Board of Trustees—will give TOPS a $0.25 per hour base increase, including an additional $0.10 increase for the lowest paid employees at each classification level.

The necessity for a new contract came after changes made in the Michigan legislation, particularly regarding health care reform.

The increase in healthcare costs for university employees to $2,600 per year equated a $1,100 increase from TOPS’ prior premiums, making a fight almost necessary for many union members on campus, according to Kimball.

“We were actually looking at people making almost minimum wage with that health insurance pay in, so we had to fight. We had to,” Kimball said. “That’s why these sessions of negotiations took so much longer (than other unions).”

For a handful of the 150 members of TOPS, $2,600 per year for a compensation package equates to nearly 10 percent of their yearly salary. Yet while the negotiations for TOPS lasted 16 months, other unions on campus faced the same premiums subtracted from their paychecks every month, but have in due time allowed for ratifications in their own respective contracts.

Ron Sundell, President of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), said while his membership is only somewhat associated with other unions on campus, they do make efforts to get involved when bargaining attempts are being made.

“There are five unions on campus and we do get together sometimes and talk strategy,” Sundell said. “Also, whenever they were holding informational pickets, our members would go out there and stand in the informational picket lines with them.

“In those types of activities, we try to help support them. When I would give remarks to the Board (of Trustees), I would usually include a statement of support for their efforts as well.”

Additionally, other unions faced similar ratifications to their respective contracts.

“We weren’t the only union on campus to face this, all unions on campus faced this exact same thing,” Kimball said. “The only issue for us is that we have some of the lowest paid employees on campus. Our starting rate was $9.82 an hour, and then you start asking for $1.75 an hour back for health insurance (when employees are making) $9.82…”

The contract will be in effect during the fiscal years 2013 and 2014, and also includes one-time payments to union members of $300 and $200, respectively.

Also approved by the Board in the Friday, Dec. 14 meeting were $216,000 in renovations to be made to the Kaye House, as well as a reopener of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees 1094’s previously accepted contract. The result was a 1.5 percent increase in base wages and a one-time distribution of a $150 university contribution to the pre-tax employee HRA accounts, or a taxable cash payment was also approved.

No administration was available to comment on the ratification by press time.