Wednesday, October 8, 2003

Miami University puts new proposal before strikers

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

OXFORD - After a marathon negotiation session, Miami University officials said late Tuesday that they hope an amended contract offer will end the nearly two-week strike of more than 400 food service, maintenance and custodial employees.

School officials would not comment in detail other than to say that the university agreed to improve its proposed increase in starting wage rates of positions in the bargaining unit, which represents about 860 employees.

"We are reluctant to comment further until the union leadership has had time to present the matter to its membership," said Richard Little, a Miami spokesman.

Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 209 have been on strike for nearly two weeks, arguing that the wages are not high enough. Union president Randy Marcum said his bargaining team would review the offer until 3 p.m. today and then decide whether to recommend it to members.

"We want to look at the proposal and figure out whether we want to recommend it to our people or not," he said. "We may or we may not recommend it."

The two sides initially met off campus in Oxford, school officials said, and then worked through a state mediator until after 9 p.m. to debate the details.

Earlier in the day, Miami president James Garland, provost Ron Crutcher and finance vice president Richard Norman explained the university's position in an open letter to the campus. It addressed the concerns of students and faculty members whose departments have passed several resolutions supporting workers in recent weeks.

The letter explained in detail the school's reasoning behind the last contract offered before the strike began and why officials chose to reject a state fact-finder's report. The reasons are three-fold, the letter said. First, the fact-finder proposed that the university adopt a union shop rule that would require non-union employees to pay fees to the union.

"The university's stance has always been that it is inappropriate to require Miami employees to pay union fees unless they want to do so voluntarily," the letter said.

Miami also disagrees with the recommendation that it serve as "the collection agency for the union political action committee," which school officials say would be a misuse of university funds.

Third, Miami trustees rejected the wage proposal, which school officials say could have created inequities across campus.

The letter goes on to address why Miami can't pay every employee a living wage, citing not only the difficulty in defining the concept, but the free-market system.

"Miami University is not an island, but is coupled to a larger society where the price of labor is governed by the laws of supply and demand," the letter states in part. "As a practical matter, neither Miami University nor any other university or business can unilaterally buck that system."


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