HPAE negotiations with the University are still progressing. Before a settlement can be reached, there are a number of outstanding issues that must be resolved first.
- Fiscal Emergencies. We want to ensure that any wage increase we negotiate is honored. In 2010, the University froze the contractually agreed upon raises for the Rutgers Legacy employees by invoking a little used provision of the contract that makes payment of raises “subject to” financial appropriation from the state legislature. We do not want this to happen again. After pressure from our Union coalition, the Rutgers Legacy faculty union won new contract language in which the administration agreed that wages may only be frozen if a fiscal emergency truly exists. Further, the University must prove their case to an independent arbitrator and they would also be required to renegotiate over wages rather than just impose a wage freeze. Combined, these provisions will drastically reduce the likelihood that wages could be frozen during the life of the contract and ensure we get the raises we negotiated. This language was not included in settlements with other staff unions but we are insisting that it must be part of our contract.
- Health Insurance. We want to protect ourselves from further legislative changes to our health benefits. Over the last four years, our contributions towards health insurance have increased significantly as a result of Governor Christie’s pension and benefit “reforms” passed in 2011. As part of his 2015 budget, the Governor has announced plans for even more changes to our pension and health benefits that could reduce our benefits and increase the costs we pay. These so-called “reforms” may be pushed through the legislature by the end of this fiscal year in June. We’ve proposed contract language that would lock in the health insurance contribution rates currently in place (click here for the rate chart) and provide some protection from increased insurance cost during the life of our next contract. This protection was not included in settlements with other staff unions however, the University did agree to a similar provision with one of their faculty unions. There is no reason why it should not be equally applied to Rutgers nurses and professionals.
- Wages. We want fair wages for the work we do and we want wages that keep up with increased health care costs. However, management has made their bottom line clear: They want our union to agree to the 2% pattern they’ve established in their negotiations with the Teamsters, the Rutgers Legacy faculty, as well as some of the smaller staff unions. Regardless of the protections above, we still have to be concerned with rising health insurance premiums and the higher premium-sharing rates that come with increased salaries. We believe a creative combination of step increments and across the board increases could help achieve a better wage package that would help mitigate increasing health insurance costs for the majority of our members.
- Tuition. We want a tuition benefit worthy of a first-rate University. However, the disparity between “legacy” benefits is nowhere more evident than with the University’s tuition remission policy. Early on, the University announced a separate agreement with the Teamsters that provided tuition remission—but only for dependent children. Unlike the Rutgers legacy staff, the deal did not provide tuition remission for employees. The University claims the benefit was offered as an incentive for the union to agree to changes necessary to merge payroll systems. Now, the University claims it no longer needs to merge the payroll systems and therefore they are no longer inclined to offer the same benefits to the nursing and professional staff. We set out to improve our tuition benefit for employees, however, we have made it clear we are not willing to accept anything less than what the University has agreed to with other unions.
- Seniority and layoff rights. We want to finally feel secure in our jobs after years of reorganization and uncertainty. In the public sector, budget cuts have been a constant reality and the University continues to integrate legacy administration systems that could result in further staff reductions and outsourcing. We have proposals on the table to expand our options to fill more vacancies in the event of a layoff and to expand our rights to include bumping into lower job series. These new provisions, if agreed to, would create a wider safety net to ensure our years of service and dedication to our work is respected.
We have two more dates scheduled for May. We believe that we are close to reaching an agreement and the issues outlined above can be the framework for a settlement.