By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star
---- — A tentative contract has been reached between the state and United University Professions, the governor and union president said in a joint announcement Tuesday.
UUP, which has more than 35,000 members including about 1,400 in the area, had been without a contract since 2011. Under the proposal, members would receive a zero percent wage increase for the three years, 2011 to 2013, and 2 percent increases in 2014 and 2015. Contributions toward health coverage would increase.
According to the State Budget Office, the agreement will save about $87 million in wages through a Deficit Reduction Program over the contract period, a media release from the governor’s office said. All changes to health benefits will save $99 million during the contract period.
The agreement is tentative pending ratification by UUP membership, which union officials said is expected this spring.
John Taylor, president of the UUP Chapter at the State University College of Technology at Delhi, said he would be recommending passage of the agreement to the local’s approximately 375 members. UUP negotiators worked long and hard for an equitable balance that benefits SUNY as well, he said.
“It is a reasonable proposal in a difficult economic time for all state agencies. The proposal would be fairly described as the best that can be expected,’’ Taylor said in an emailed statement. “The articles presented show a commitment from UUP to the future of higher education in New York state and dedication to improving working conditions for its members. The union is also showing its willingness to save the state money by accepting increases in member health benefit costs and Deficit Reduction unpaid leave days.’’
Fred Kowal, president of the UUP Chapter at the State University College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill, deferred comments about the agreement to the union president and his office. The Cobleskill unit has about 300 members, Kowal said.
The UUP Chapter at the State University College at Oneonta has about 750 members, unit president William Simons said.
Simons also deferred comment because the pending contract is a statewide, not local, agreement.
UUP President Phillip H. Smith said the tentative contract is fair for the union and the state.
“This contract meets the unique needs of our members and meets the state’s need to achieve savings in these difficult economic times,” Smith said in the release.
SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher expressed appreciation to state and UUP representatives and the SUNY team on reaching a “conceptual agreement.’’
“While a final agreement is subject to ratification by the full membership, the Memorandum of Understanding represents a significant accomplishment through compromise by all parties in achieving a fair and equitable settlement given these difficult economic times,” Zimpher said in the media release issued by the governor’s office.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state was able to reach a fair agreement with UUP through collaboration.
“This contract agreement continues the state’s commitment to fiscal discipline while recognizing the vital role our university employees play in a strong SUNY system,” Cuomo said in a prepared statement.
The release said the tentative pact includes:
• A 2-percentage-point increase in health insurance premium contributions for employees earning less than $40,137, making the share 12 percent for individuals and 27 percent for family premiums.
• A 6 percentage point increase for employees earning $40,137 and above, making the share 16 percent for individuals and 31 percent for family premiums.
• A Deficit Reduction Program.
• Payments of $500, $500, and $250 to be awarded to employees at the discretion of the chancellor. UUP members receive no “step” increases or longevity payments but campus presidents may make performance incentive lump-sum payments of 0.5 percent annually (1 percent at end of the contract term).
The American Arbitration Association will conduct a ratification vote by mail this spring. UUP members will have about three weeks to return ballots to AAA.
A simple majority is needed to pass the tentative agreement, Communications Director Denyce Duncan Lacy said Tuesday. Union officials will be sharing specific details about the old and new contracts with members in local units during the days ahead, she said, and will look for ratification in the spring.
“We think it’s a good contract,’’ she said.