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Thursday, May 1, 2014 12:01 am

‘Clerical error’ means headaches for SIU union

Medical school accused of illegally booting union members

Employees at SIU School of Medicine protest the school’s assertion that they are no longer in the AFSCME Local 370 union.
PHOTO BY PATRICK YEAGLE

 

A group of unionized employees at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield claims the school is illegally trying to force them out of their union.

With signs, chants and a stack of grievance forms, a group of protestors picketed outside the human resources office at SIU on April 24, accusing the school of using a “clerical error” to reduce the union’s strength. The medical school says the union approved the agreement that led to this situation.

“Of course there’s always going to be some issues between labor and management, but it seemed like nothing had been insurmountable before,” said Lisa Hensley, vice president of AFSCME Local 370, the union that covers SIU jobs. “They pulled this over a clerical error after the end of negotiations. It’s obviously union-busting. It’s an attack on workers.”

According to Hensley, the spat started April 21, when SIU School of Medicine sent out a memo explaining that the school and the union had signed a new contract, but nine job titles were not among those listed in the contract. The jobs include an estimated 220 to 240 workers who handle insurance, office duties, collections and certified medical assistants.

The school says it offered a proposal in which those jobs would have been covered under the new contract, but it claims the union rejected the deal. According to SIU’s memo, that meant the excluded jobs were no longer part of the union.

Penny McCarty, director of the Office of Human Resources for SIU, said in a prepared statement that the school did discuss the job classifications with the union during the bargaining process.

“The school proposed to update the list of classifications and proposed removing two classifications from the bargaining unit,” McCarty said. “The union rejected the proposal from the school and did not propose an alternative.

“The School of Medicine bargained in good faith and is abiding by the language of the negotiated agreement, which was ratified by the union,” McCarty said.

Hensley claims those jobs actually are covered in the contract, only under different titles. She says the State Universities Civil Service System, which oversees certain positions in higher education, often changes job titles from year to year, but the jobs remain essentially the same, as do the people working those jobs. Hensley says the contract her union approved contained outdated job titles for the nine jobs which the school claims are no longer part of the union. Although the job titles in the agreement are outdated, Hensley says the school has no legal right to decide those workers no longer belong to the union.

In order to actually remove job titles from eligibility for union membership, Hensley says the school would have to get permission from the Education Labor Relations Board, a state agency which mediates the relationships between universities and labor unions.

Erik Hostetter, a staff representative with AFSCME Council 31, the parent union of Local 370, says about 100 grievance forms filled out by workers and submitted to the school were rejected Monday on the basis that the workers are no longer union members.  Hostetter says the union plans to file a complaint against SIU with the Education Labor Relations Board for unfair labor practices.

“I don’t know if they’re getting legal advice, if they’re moving unilaterally, or if they’re just getting poor legal advice,” Hostetter said of SIU. “Our legal staff is pretty confident that what the school is doing is illegal, and we will hold them accountable to that.”

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

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