Penn State

‘This contract was not about money.’ Penn State police union voices reluctance in sealing labor deal

Centre Daily Times, file

The Penn State University Police Officers’ Association said it “reluctantly” ratified Tuesday its first-ever contract with the university after five days of final discussions.

The three-year pact includes changes in compensation and basic life insurance effective immediately, with the remainder of the agreement to go into effect April 4, according to an internal email from Charlie Noffsinger, assistant vice president for Penn State police and public safety. The Centre Daily Times obtained the correspondence.

PSU-POA president Josh Quimby said the contract sets a proper pay scale for armed and unarmed security officers while establishing 2.5 percent raises for 2018 and 2019 and a 2 percent raise in 2020 for police officers. The basic life insurance policy was raised to $125,000 for PSU-POA members, up from $50,000.

Collective bargaining over the agreement began in August. It covers roughly 125 union members.

“This contract was not about money,” Quimby said. “It was about employee rights and protecting our members’ families and work/life balance.”

Penn State said it’s not university practice to discuss contract terms, and declined to answer specific questions. The university did issue a statement on Noffsinger’s behalf.

“We recognize that the safety and security of our university community — which is a priority at Penn State — is dependent on the continued good work of our officers and we value our department,” the university said. “We continue to support our leaders within university police and public safety, as well as our entire unit as we move ahead with the terms of this ratified agreement.”

The CDT also obtained a PSU-POA letter addressing the union’s “overwhelming concerns” about two articles in the agreement: temporary-duty assignments and work schedules. Specifically, the ratified agreement increases to 90 the number of days an officer may be assigned to a temporary assignment at another campus. That’s up from seven days.

“These concerns come from many legitimate places that should shock any person with deeply rooted family values and the ability to understand the unnecessary burden being thrust upon the employees,” Quimby wrote in the Tuesday letter, which addressed at least two university officials. “What does a single parent do with their child or children for 90 days? What does an officer do with their animals for that time frame?”

Quimby said the union hopes the university will work with the group on a side letter of agreement that matches the previous policy on temporary assignments.

The work-schedule policy, meanwhile, calls for a bipartisan committee to conduct research and collaborate before recommending the best working schedules for each of the 22 Penn State campus locations, according to the union letter.

Quimby said the union fears the approach would give Noffsinger “sole discretion” over the schedule-making process.

“Noffsinger has yet to regain or earn the trust of the members of the association,” Quimby wrote. “This also placed a sentiment of dread within the members as they debated and contemplated acceptance or denial of the contract.”

He also cited member fears “of further infringements and deterioration of our work/life balance and general employee rights.”

Still, Quimby said, the ongoing absence of a contract and the prospect of waiting months for new terms were “far worse” than agreeing to the language in the proposed contract.

“The reluctant ‘yes’ vote is a byproduct of the working environment,” Quimby said. “We want a professional and fair working environment that lives up to the publicly presented standards that Penn State University is proud of and be treated no differently than our municipal and state law enforcement brothers and sisters.”

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Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.