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Published: Tuesday, 10/12/2010

UT board OKs contract, raise for 2,000 in union

BY CHRISTOPHER D. KIRKPATRICK
BLADE STAFF WRITER

At its board meeting, trustees approved a new contract for its 2,000 AFSCME employees, including an immediate bonus and back-to-back annual pay raises.

The union also gave concessions, including no more payouts for unused sick and personal time and taking on more of the cost of employee health care.

The cost to the university over the 18 months of the contract is a net $2.76 million.

About 1,500 of the AFSCME members work on the health sciences campus, the former Medical College of Ohio, in a variety of jobs, including pharmacist, nurse, and dietician. On the Bancroft Street campus, they include clerical and custodial staff, among others.

The union ratified the agreement last week 794 to 79 - or by a 10-to-1 margin.

The deal includes an immediate lump-sum payment of $250 to $1,000, depending on the employee's pay scale, a 2 percent pay raise beginning next month, and another 3 percent pay raise in July.

Under the deal, manage-ment can force up to 32 hours of unpaid furlough time on employees if needed to save money.

Despite the unanimous vote, several trustees said they felt the contract gave away too much and didn't properly reflect the difficult economic times and job losses among taxpayers in the community.

The university initially wanted no raises and modest future increases. But a fact finder rejected that idea and the two sides recently returned to the bargaining table and eventually came up with the agreement approved Monday.

Tom Kosek, president of AFSCME Local 2415, said the deal reflects market-rate pay for university health system employees.

He said when UT and the Medical College of Ohio merged four years ago, the new entity became a more complex organizational entity, with market-driven obligations to pay higher wages.

"It's a victory for these employees, though reluctantly approved by the board of trustees," he said. "The board needs to accept the fact that if you play in that arena, you have to pay in that arena."

He said, in general, executives in health-care systems with a medical school are paid more than those at midsize universities.

As part of the deal, health-care workers will receive additional bonuses for increased patient satisfaction as measured by take-home patient/customer surveys. It's a method that hospitals are increasingly using to encourage repeat business.

It's also the future, Mr. Kosek said, because the level of hospital reimbursement under the new federal health-care legislation will be tied, at least in part, to measured rates of patient satisfaction.

The trustees also approved a plan to restructure the university's system of colleges.

The plan is meant to highlight various academic specialties to give those disciplines, departments, and the university in general a marketing edge when competing for students.

The board in May instructed UT President Lloyd Jacobs to improve university standards and to improve the academic quality of its student body.

The change means the 20-some departments that were inside arts and sciences are now reorganized as the college of language, literature, and social science; college of mathematics and science, and the college of visual and performing arts.

The change impacts 4,130 undergraduate and graduate students. The university has more than 23,000 students.

The move has been controversial and faculty have resisted, with some calling Dr. Jacobs an autocrat.

One of the more controversial changes was combining into one new college the Judith Herb college of education and the college of health science and human services.

The recasting of the university's academic structure comes 18 months ahead of the accreditation review process by the Higher Learning Commission in Chicago and reflects changes that other universities, such as Arizona State, have made with success, Dr, Jacobs said.

With the new college structure in place, the faculty, students, deans, and administration will work on the finer points of the transition and discuss creating new schools of specialization and moving forward with ones already approved, such as the new school of computer science engineering and technology.

It now exists within the traditional college of engineering.

But the new name more accurately describes a specific discipline within the school that might entice students thinking about a career in the computer science aspect of engineering, said Nagi G. Naganathan, dean of the college.

Board Chairman C. William Fall said the new plan provides a path for the development of university academic programs.

"This is a defining moment, but it really just sets up a future framework," he said.

Contact Christopher D.

Kirkpatrick at:

ckirkpatrick@theblade.com

or 419-724-6134.



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