University, UPD officers struggle to reach a deal

Members of the University police force plan to picket if GW does not reach a contract renewal agreement with their union, following strained negotiations that are on the verge of falling flat, according to union leaders. 

The contract between GW and the International Union, Security, Police, Fire Professionals of America expired Dec. 31 and six collective bargaining discussions since then have been fruitless, Guy Thomas, one of the union’s directors, said. About 85 officers at GW are part of the union.

“We’ve had a series of meetings, and the union’s made a lot of concessions to try to reach an agreement and we’re not getting a spirit of cooperation,” Thomas said. “The University, in its negotiations, is not demonstrating respect for the important work these security officers do.”

Leaders will return to the bargaining table in early February. The two sides are debating wage increases, different grooming standards for male and female officers and the right for supervisors to contact an employee’s religious institution to verify their faith.

Darrin Carter, head of the Local 294 branch of the union under which the officers fall, charged that University representatives are dragging their feet at the talks.

Carter, a former UPD officer, was fired in June for absences without leave, despite medical certification, according to National Labor Relations Board charges filed against GW last spring. He remains the leader of the local branch because the union is still arbitrating his dismissal with the University.

University Police Chief Kevin Hay declined to comment on the talks with the union. A University statement provided by the Office of Media Relations did not address questions regarding the potential for officers to picket, criticisms that the University is unwilling to compromise with the union or GW’s issues with the union’s requests.

“We are currently engaged in good faith negotiations with Local Union 294. We believe our most recent offer was reasonable and hope that the union will respond favorably,” the statement read.

While officers would still work during the picketing, they would use demonstrations to spread word to the public about what they consider unfair working conditions.

“We want this resolved, but if the University continues the way it has, it’ll be unavoidable,” Thomas said.

The average annual salary for police patrol officers at colleges and universities nationwide is about $46,560, according to data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in May 2010. At GW, security patrol officers make about $42,000 annually, the union heads said, at about $21.41 an hour. The 3-percent wage increase that union heads call for would boost the hourly rate to $22.05 – a figure still lower than the national hourly mean wage of $22.39.

The union is also requesting a 5-cent raise for night differentials, or payment for work between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. – a wage that stands at 75 cents an hour and has not seen an increase in more than 15 years, Thomas and Carter said. That pay hike would add up to about $4,000 total each for in extra costs for GW.

Thomas said the union would reluctantly accept a one-year contract with a 3-percent pay raise but won’t agree to a three-year contract that does not guarantee the increase for every year. Contract rules would force the union to accept any pay adjustments GW chooses to implement in the second or third year without giving workers the right to picket – a risk he said the union cannot afford to take.

Under a grooming policy implemented by Hay, different standards are applied to men and women in what the union heads call gender discrimination. For example, females are allowed to wear earrings and nail polish, while men are prohibited from both.

A UPD memo on operating procedures obtained by The Hatchet explains that a “distinction is drawn between the grooming required for males and females” to reflect “expectations by the public of different grooming standards by the two sexes.”

“These expectations are critical to the recognition, cooperation and absence of antagonism by the public,” the memo reads.

The University also reserves the right to call an employee’s religious institution or leader to confirm an officer’s beliefs or need for religion-related accommodations, a policy Carter and Thomas called a violation of privacy.

“We are working with them to get this changed because we believe that’s inappropriate and unlawful,” Thomas said.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.