But a union official called the move a "scare tactic to divide us."
The 52 service workers at Johnstown have been without a contract since July 1, 1997, working under periodic contract extensions. The workers are members of Local 585, Division 29 (formerly Local 29) of the Service Employees International Union, AFL-CIO. Local 29 merged with Local 585 last May.
The University issued its ultimatum Sept. 16 to Local 585 negotiators and sent out letters to Division 29-Johnstown members the following week.
In the letter, John G. Greeno, assistant vice chancellor for employee and labor relations, stated, "The union negotiating committee has insisted on wage rate increases and cash payments that are far beyond the University's pay structure. In an effort to move negotiations to closure … the University made its final economic offer to the union on wages, cash and health coverage."
The letter also was signed by Allan L. Boggs, Pitt's director of labor relations.
Mike Salmon, Local 585's chief negotiator, said, "Pitt's said all along 'It's not a matter of money; we don't need to do this; we aren't laying off teachers or anyone.' In fact, they're proud that they just had their first $1 billion dollar budget," Salmon said.
Pitt is offering a 2.5 percent wage increase effective July 1, 1998, 2.5 percent effective July 1, 1999, and 2.5 percent effective July 1, 2000. To qualify for each wage increase, workers would have had to be employed at the time of the retroactive raise dates. The length of the contract, if signed, would run to June 30, 2001.
Additionally, the University is offering each worker an $1,100 cash payment within 30 days of contract ratification and $300 to be awarded July 1, 2000.
Pitt will pick up standard "core" payments toward employee health coverage, a policy formalized in spring 1998, Greeno stated.
The University argues that the Johnstown service workers are the only employees, other than individuals in an HMO plan, who do not contribute to University-provided health coverage, under terms of the expired contract. "All University labor agreements — other than yours — require employees to contribute to the cost of their health coverage," Greeno wrote to the service workers.
The University has paid full health care coverage to Johnstown workers since the contract's 1997 expiration, according to Greeno.
Salmon maintained the University's offer represents a cut in real pay, when adjusted for health care costs. The one-year cash payments, he said, do not compensate for the pay cut.
"If you have a family, the cheapest [health care option] is $110 a month. For someone making $10.40 an hour, that means a 6 percent pay cut. If you go with SelectBlue at $196 per month, that's a 10 percent pay cut. We don't want to go backwards," Salmon said.
The administration's letter urges union membership to sign the contract by Nov. 1.
"We sent the letters to [individual] members with a purpose. We want to reach closure and we mean it that this is our last, best offer," Greeno told the University Times.
He said Pitt was appealing to the membership directly because the union negotiators have stifled progress. "[The union team] did not like it when we told them of this offer [on Sept. 16]. That was clear.
"But by spelling it out," Greeno added, "we're sure that individuals are getting the accurate information on our offer. We tailored the letters to each job classification, and broke down the actual amounts [workers] would receive and what health care costs they would be required to pay [under the current health care fee structure]."
Salmon said the letters are a tactic to divide the members between those who are single and those who need family health coverage. "The University is saying 'If you're single, you can afford this, so why don't you sell out your co-workers and sign [the contract offer]." Salmon said about a third of the members have family coverage.
Salmon said that the union plans to continue trying to persuade the University that it is not being fair.
No bargaining sessions are scheduled, but both sides said they were not ruling out additional negotiating sessions.
–Peter Hart, via University Times