9/5/07

AFSCME to picket Ohio University

Union workers at Ohio University will begin picketing on campus this week, upset about recent layoffs and the way university officials have handled related budget decisions. OU officials explain, however, that the layoffs are part of a larger budget process and that they have been frank in explaining the reasons to union leaders.

In July, OU announced that it would be laying off 24 facilities-management employees. The positions being eliminated were union positions, represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) at OU. The union represented 645 employees at OU before the cuts were made.

On Friday, Dave Logan, president of AFSCME Local 1699, said that he believes the administration was not honest with the union in explaining why the positions were being eliminated. He confirmed that the union will begin informational picketing on campus on Thursday and will also be doing informational picketing at special events. "The union was stabbed in the back by the administration. There's just no polite way of saying it," Logan said.

The union negotiated a three-year contract in good faith earlier in the year, and the university made the cuts after the contract was finalized, Logan said. He believes that both sides negotiated in good faith, and that the top officials at OU made decisions that resulted in the layoffs.

"It's my opinion that the layoffs are a clear violation of the contract," Logan said. The contract states that employees can be laid off only due to lack of money or lack of work, Logan said.

The layoffs resulted in 17 custodians and seven zone-maintenance specialists losing their jobs, Logan said.

"The least senior position of the custodial positions has been here longer than (OU Vice President for Finance) Bill Decatur," Logan said. "And of course, you know he's out looking for another job while he's laying people off."

At the time the layoffs were announced, OU officials said the cuts were because of budget problems and the budget realignment, Logan said. He said that OU officials talked a lot about how more money would be put toward campus safety and that they often mentioned the tragedy at Virginia Tech. With the budget realignment, though, the university spent a small percentage on the campus police and spent much more on accountants and administrators, Logan said.

DECATUR AGREED Sunday that both sides negotiated in good faith, and said that OU officials told Logan that there almost certainly would be layoffs.

"At the time we finalized the contract, we didn't know what the budget would look like," Decatur said, adding that OU was still waiting for budget information from the state.

The layoffs are the result of three main factors, Decatur explained. First of all, when OU did a major budget realignment more than a year and a half ago, it did not eliminate all of the positions that it needed to in order to keep up with the budget cuts, because planners hoped a significant number of employees would take early retirement.

"As of June 30, we were way short on the number of early-retirement participants," Decatur said.

The second reason is that funding had to be cut again to balance this year's budget, Decatur said. Budget cuts were made in all areas of the university, he added.

The third reason was a reallocation of resources. The university put more funding into areas such as planning and high-priority areas, adding two police sergeant positions, creating a position in risk management and safety to help reduce worker's compensation expenses, funding a new senior associated vice president of finance, and creating other positions that will ultimately save money on campus, Decatur said. For example, if OU can get down to the state average in worker's compensation expenses, it would save $700,000 per year, he maintained.

The money saved by these new positions will help protect jobs on campus in future years, Decatur predicted.

"Reallocations are always tough. These decisions weren't made easily," he said. "I don't think this is the end of it."

As for Logan's comment about him looking for another job, Decatur said he no longer is considering any other positions. "I'm committed to staying here," he said.

DURING THE CONTRACT negotiations, the union asked for a 2 percent raise, and was given a 3 percent, raise, Logan said. If the university had given a 2 percent raise to all university employees, it would have saved $900,000 and could have saved the jobs of the 24 employees, he noted.

Decatur said that the union contract calls for union employees to receive no less than the other raises on campus. Because other OU employees received the 3 percent raise, the union also received a 3 percent raise, he said.

The zone-maintenance employees who lost their jobs had all been at OU between 9-16 years, Logan said. These employees were all able to bump other OU employees with less seniority and take their positions, but they also had to take significant pay cuts and take other jobs.

The bumping process means that many people across campus had to move into other jobs before those with the least amount of seniority were either laid off or placed on part-time status, Logan said. Several employees also bumped employees out of position at the regional campuses in Chillicothe and Zanesville, according to Logan.

One layoff notice went to Jane Pack, who was a cook at the Oasis when the university bought the restaurant in 2002. Logan said that Pack was promised a job at OU, and that she worked as a cook and then as a custodian.

"We had to deliver her layoff notice to the James Cancer Center," Logan said. "She's got brain cancer."

Pack was worried about losing her insurance and not being able to get disability pay at a time when she needed to focus on getting better, Logan said.

"This is what they do," he said.

Pack has been able to get on disability and use her vacation and sick time at OU, but Logan said he's still upset that the university began the layoff process for her while she was so sick.

"It's just a sad situation," he said.

The layoffs take affect this week, and will result in several buildings being cleaned less often, Logan said. Baker Center, Alden Library and the Ping Center will all suffer from the decreased cleaning, as will other buildings, he said.

(athensnews.com)

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