Special Edition Management Update - March 26, 2015

Management Update Regarding AFSCME Negotiations

Kent State University has a long-standing, productive relationship with the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees AFL-CIO Local 153 and Ohio Council 8 (AFSCME), which represents approximately 375 hourly classified employees on the Kent Campus. The current collective-bargaining agreement expired Sept. 30, 2014, with a subsequent extension to Nov. 14, 2014. Although the extension has expired, the university and AFSCME continue to honor the terms of the expired contract.

The parties began negotiations toward a successor agreement in the fall of 2014. At the outset of negotiations, the university offered a one-year contract extension with a two-percent, across-the-board wage increase and a one-year freeze on employee contributions toward the cost of health insurance. AFSCME declined that offer without a vote of its members. 

Over the course of multiple negotiation sessions, the parties were able to resolve a number of contract issues. However, a significant number of non-economic issues, most of which were sought by AFSCME, remained unresolved. The parties were also unable to resolve key economic issues, including wages and health insurance benefits.

Fact-finding process:

The university and AFSCME jointly decided to submit all unresolved issues to the statutory fact-finding process. Through the State Employment Relations Board (SERB), the parties mutually selected James Mancini to serve as a neutral, third-party fact-finder to make recommendations on all unresolved issues. Representatives of the university and AFSCME participated in a hearing before the fact-finder on March 4 and March 6, 2015. The parties did not complete their presentations, so they will be meeting on April 27, 2015, for a final fact-finding meeting.

The university’s fact-finding position is consistent with three guiding principles:
Consistently communicating that the university is dealing with very uncertain budget conditions that compel caution and, perhaps, an avoidance of long-term commitments.
Conducting negotiations with AFSCME in a manner that is consistent with the university’s overall union relations strategy, including its upcoming negotiations with the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) representing tenured-track and non-tenure-track faculty; and
Being mindful of future changes in health insurance that are compelled by changes created by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the impending Cadillac tax and other issues.
The university presented to the fact-finder a proposal for a two-year contract that would run from the spring of 2015 until spring of 2017. The two-year contract would include a two-percent across-the-board increase in the first year and a one-percent across-the-board increase in the second year.  It would also provide for a modest increase in employee contributions toward the cost of health insurance in 2016 plus a re-opening of the contract in the summer of 2016 for the purpose of negotiating health insurance benefits for calendar year 2017.

The university explained to the fact-finder that the wage increases sought by AFSCME would result in first-year increases to covered employees ranging from 14 to 21 percent. Increases of that magnitude would be unaffordable, unsustainable and unprecedented in any public employer setting in Ohio. AFSCME has advanced other proposals with significant cost implications, including sick leave and vacation leave benefits that would exceed those offered by any state university in Ohio.

What happens next?

Once the third day of the fact-finding hearing is complete, the fact-finder will have an agreed-upon period of time to issue his report and recommendations. Both the university and AFSCME would then have seven days to vote on the fact-finder’s report. If neither the union membership nor the university’s Board of Trustees rejects the recommendations by a three-fifths vote, then the fact-finder’s recommendations along with the parties’ prior tentative agreements become part of a new collective-bargaining agreement.

If the fact-finder’s recommendations are rejected, then SERB mails a copy of the fact-finding report and notice of rejection to both parties (and the press), which the university must post for a period of 30 days. It is only at the end of this 30-day publication period that AFSCME would be legally permitted to engage in a strike, and then only if it had provided the required 10-day strike notice. In the meantime, the university and AFSCME could continue to negotiate in an effort to reach agreement on a new contract.

It is not unusual or unexpected for the collective-bargaining process to be accompanied by some rough patches and some discourse that can be unsettling. The current negotiations with AFSCME are no exception. The university remains focused on maintaining a constructive relationship with AFSCME. The university also remains confident that it can achieve a settlement with AFSCME that provides fair and equitable wages, benefits and working conditions to the valued university employees who are represented by AFSCME. 

The university will provide an update at the conclusion of the negotiation process.

POSTED: Monday, March 23, 2015 - 12:00am
UPDATED: Monday, November 30, 2015 - 11:09am