OCOPE begins negotiations
The Oberlin College Office and Professional Employees union, encouraged by the solidarity of dozens of students and the support of the other campus unions, is “guardedly optimistic” about the current round of contract negotiations with the College.
Five issues are going to be the focus for the union in upcoming talks, including healthcare benefits, wages, job security, tuition remission and retirement benefits.
OCOPE leaders are dissatisfied with the level of information provided to them by the College.
“We’ve made information requests and haven’t gotten everything back yet,” Vice President Tracy Tucker said. “We’ve been preparing for nine months.”
Specifically, the union is waiting for information that the College claims is proof of the need for cutbacks in benefits.
“They say the unions cost them too much. We’re waiting for proof. They’ve yet to provide it,” Tucker said.
Instead, they claim the College has attempted to shift attention to the merits of their health plan.
“We requested a follow up meeting to get additional statistics on usage and costs of health insurance. What we got was a two and a half hour sales pitch from [the health provider] Cigna,” Tucker said. “We need to see cost factors.”
Lee expressed frustration with the College’s level of respect for workers.
“There appears to be a perception that we’re too naïve or not savvy enough to question the statistics that they give us,” she said.
OCOPE, Oberlin College Security Association, and Oberlin’s United Auto Workers have made an effort to support one another during past and upcoming negotiations. The UAW’s contract expires in August, while OCSA’s expires next summer.
“There is a strong bond of solidarity between the unions and the students. At times it shakes the College to see us out and about together.” Tucker said
OCOPE and the UAW have had several planning sessions and joint meetings. They have also organized social gatherings such as last October’s second annual unity bonfire in Oberlin’s Tappan Square.
OCOPE has also enjoyed the support of several student organizations. The unions organized a Christmas party and several study breaks with the assistance of the OC Dems. In recent weeks, the Student Labor Action Coalition has been chalking around campus to raise student body awareness of the negotiations.
Both Tucker and Lee anticipate that healthcare benefits will be the major concern of this negotiations cycle.
The union is concerned that the College will force members to pay premiums and co-pays that that they cannot afford.
“We don’t want to go backwards,” Tucker said.
Another issue, which came up frequently in member surveys, was the problem of tuition remission for children of employees. OCOPE members receive substantially less tuition assistance than the other employees on campus at 20 percent.
There have been three days of negotiation between the union and College and seven more are scheduled for next month.
The union is adamant that whatever contract is negotiated must be adhered to by the College. It complained that the College tried to restructure their health care benefits shortly after the last contract had been finalized.
“Whatever we get in our contract, we want them to stick to that,” Tucker said. “We care about Oberlin College and Oberlin students. This place works because we do.”