By Kalan K. Birnie, Hayley Burcher, Ethan Tan
UPDATED: 2:30 p.m. 11/12/19
Shortly after 10 a.m. on Nov. 12, over 60 blue-shirt-clad University employees came together and marched through Hilltop campus. The marchers were members of Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 29, the union guild of program assistants and other professional staff at USF.
Local 29 is currently in contract negotiations with the University as they seek to receive the same salary increases as the USF Faculty Association (USFFA), the full-time faculty union. As talks have slowed, Local 29 took to campus to increase visibility and strengthen their position. Other members of the campus community, including members of the full-time faculty union, marched alongside them in support.
So as to not disrupt the workday, union leadership scheduled the demonstration to take place from 10:15-10:30 a.m., in line with the standard 15-minute breaks employees can take.
The group processed from outside of McLaren to Gleeson Plaza, where they arranged themselves in a circle as Spencer Rangitsch, the program assistant for the Department of Politics, said into a bullhorn, “When I say ‘social justice,’ you say ‘staff wages!’” A call-and-response ensued.
While USFFA members are to receive a 4% salary increase next year, the latest Local 29 negotiations landed on a proposed 2% salary increase for program assistants and other professional staff at the University. In past years, the Local 29 contract with the University has included a “Me too” clause, which meant that any benefits given to the USFFA would also go to Local 29.
“The University was very tricky because what they did is they said, ‘You can do a ‘Me too’ with the faculty,’ and we were like ‘Okay, because you’re going to treat the faculty right,’” said Patrick Dunagan, a published author who works in Gleeson Library. “But then what they did is they negotiated our contract to stop, and the faculty contract to go on an extra year. And that extra year is when the faculty got their 4%.”
Last spring, the Foghorn provided closer coverage of the USFFA’s contract negotiations with the University. This year, however, the University stipulated for the first time that members of union leadership are barred from interacting with the Foghorn while negotiations are ongoing.
Dunagan is a longtime Local 29 member but does not hold a leadership position, and was therefore allowed to speak to the Foghorn. Several other union members declined to comment.
“The faculty get 4%, but they’re already making a faculty wage. [Most] faculty are making over six figures, and our average wage, at the highest, is half that, and significantly lower,” Dunagan said. “So for us, that 4% is not the same as it would be for a faculty member. It’s a much more significant increase that they’re getting.”
“I’ve worked at USF for over ten years now,” he said. “My rent goes up, going out to eat goes up, going to get groceries goes up, but my check hasn’t really gone up significantly.”
This echoed a common sentiment among those in attendance. Many pointed out that landlords do not discriminate between professors and program assistants — rent costs go up regardless.
“Faculty rent goes up, our rent goes up the same!” shouted one speaker into a bullhorn.
One speaker present also told those in attendance that Provost Donald Heller received an 8.6% raise on his salary last year.
According to the University’s two most recent Form 990s filed with the IRS, Heller was paid $426,286 in 2016. In 2017, he was paid $462,604, an 8.51% raise.
Kathleen Coll, a full-time faculty union member and associate professor of politics, told the Foghorn that she was marching in solidarity with her staff colleagues. “Their salaries have fallen so far behind local cost of living increases, and so many staff positions have been cut these past three years, that it’s no wonder we have seen an increase in turnover. This directly impacts the academic programs and student services that are at the heart of all our work and USF’s mission. I think support for them will keep growing until they receive a fair contract.”
Negotiations between OPEIU Local 29 and the University will continue with a federal mediator on Nov. 20.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that an OPEIU Local 29 member discussed Provost Heller’s salary. He did not. This story has been updated to correct a misattribution. The Foghorn regrets the error but stands by its reporting.