Updated OCOPE Contract to be Published Online

Oberlin College Office and Professional Employees will soon publish an updated union contract following negotiations with the College.

OCOPE leadership confirmed that language used in the updated contract was ratified on Oct. 2, although the contract in its entirety has not yet been finalized and approved.

“We’re currently proofreading the contract, and hope to get it finalized very soon,” Diane Lee, president of OCOPE and interlibrary loan supervisor, wrote in an email to the Review.

OCOPE first signed a contract with the College in 1971, ensuring benefits and establishing more transparent human resources policies for union members. Negotiations occur every three years, with the two most recent discussions occurring in July 2016 and this past June. The most recent contract expired on June 30.

Chief Human Resources Officer Joseph Vitale maintains that the timing of the bargaining progress was not unusual, despite claims that the administration waited until the student body was off-campus to begin negotiations in order to limit student pushback on the terms of the contract.

“The College engages in negotiations collectively with its unionized memberships when mutually-agreeable times present themselves,” Vitale wrote in an email to the Review. “This year’s sessions began on June 11, when we were able to get all parties at the table.”

“All parties” include OCOPE and representatives from the College, such as: Labor Counsel at Frantz-Ward LLP Mike Frantz; Azariah Smith Root Director of Libraries Alexia Hudson-Ward; Director of Compensation and Benefits Mark McLeod; Assistant Dean for Business and Operations Angela Szunyogh; Chief Human Resources Officer Joe Vitale; and Manager of Labor and Employee Relations Kim Wiggerly.

According to the most-recently published contract, the College recognizes OCOPE as “the sole and exclusive bargaining representative for all full-time and regular status part-time Administrative Assistants including limited-term positions.”

The final One Oberlin report, which was released in May and outlined the Academic and Advising Program Review committee’s recommendations for overcoming the institution’s structural budget deficit, posited four overarching goals for its review process. One of these goals focused on employee and labor relations.

The report states that 63 percent of the institution’s operating expenses go toward employee costs. During the fiscal year 2018, this number totaled approximately $79.6 million. As stated in the 2018 annual report, employee costs decreased from 2017-18 due to voluntary separation and salary freezes. In accordance with the 2016-2019 contract, OCOPE members received a one-percent raise effective July 1, 2018, and a half-percent increase in wage rates starting Jan. 1, 2019.

Although AAPR could not legally interfere with the bargaining process, Lee feels that AAPR’s goal to contain labor costs indirectly influenced the negotiations.

“Many of the College’s proposals to cut benefits, rights, and job protections in our contract appeared to be informed by the conclusions and recommendations of the AAPR,” Lee wrote. “We remain deeply concerned about the AAPR recommendations.”

According to Lee, union members will see a small wage increase in the second and third years of the contract. However, these raises are expected to be offset by decreased benefits including higher out-of-pocket healthcare expenses and a decrease in retirement contributions by the College.

The administration maintains that it looked to prioritize both employee well-being and long-term financial sustainability in its negotiations with OCOPE.

“The College sought to engage in a collaborative effort that allowed each party to reach an agreement which is fair to its employees and supports Oberlin’s ongoing mission, while aiming to ensure the institution’s financial sustainability,” Vice President for Finance and Administration Rebecca Vasquez-Skillings wrote in an email to the Review.

The full implications of the new contract are unlikely to come to light until the contract is officially posted on Oberlin’s Employee and Labor Relations webpage.

“There is no significance to the delay,” Lee wrote in an email to the Review. “We’re taking the time necessary to make sure it is completely accurate and hopefully error-free.”