Bargaining Update — May 18, 2015

Thank you to all the colleagues who attended the bargaining session last Thursday. Our team appreciates the support, and it really helps to have the people we are fighting for right there in the room with us. We had a good session, with lots of important business.

Contracts

Our first proposal was on Article 16, “Contracts”. We offered several proposals that we hope will move the conversation forward. Specifically, we have been trying to come to agreement on when faculty receive their actual contracts with their terms of appointment, how we can get funding contingent faculty more job stability, and limiting the reasons for non-renewal of Career NTT faculty contracts.

We proposed that Career NTT faculty must receive their full contracts no later than one month before their job starts, but we also proposed that they be informed of their FTE when they receive their renewal notice in May. We believe that knowing the FTE for the coming year is the most important piece of information NTT faculty need to assess whether they want to stay at the university or look for work elsewhere.

Our team proposed that all Career NTT faculty should receive at least one-year contracts, although we allowed that funding-contingent faculty could have their contracts terminated if there was a loss of funding. What we are trying to do is provide Career NTT faculty on funding contingent contracts with as much job security as possible, while recognizing the very real funding realities in the research areas. We think our proposal strikes a good balance.

Next, our team reintroduced our proposal limiting to four the legitimate reasons why a Career NTT faculty contract could be non-renewed: poor performance, lack of funding, no programmatic need for the position, or to replace the NTT position with a TT position. We have repeated this proposal because we believe strongly that if a faculty member makes a commitment to the university and performs up to professional standards, then the university should make a similar commitment in return.

Salary

The most contentious topic was salary. Our team made its second proposal, which was conceptually similar to our opening proposal, but with somewhat lower dollar figures. As in our initial offer, we proposed COLA raises, equity adjustments, and money for merit increases. Again we proposed raising salary floors for the non-tenure-track faculty. And we repeated our proposal that full professors receive a meaningful raise each time they successfully complete a major review.

In the interest of reaching agreement, our team also lowered the dollar amounts. Our COLA proposal still matches the CPI rate for this area last year (2.5%), but we lowered the proposal on the amount of money that would go to merit raises in both years of the next contract (from 2% in FY16 and 4% in FY17 to 1.5% per year). We lowered the money in the merit category because our initial merit component made up almost half of our total salary proposal. Finally, we also lowered slightly our proposal on salary floors. Overall, our salary proposal is a 10% increase over the two years.

Our team’s willingness to lower salary proposals, despite the administration’s insulting initial “offer,” acknowledges the administration team’s receptiveness to other proposals we have made, both economic and non-economic. It also indicates our good faith effort to complete bargaining with a good contract as soon as possible. We remain hopeful that the administration team will respond in kind.

Health Insurance

On this, the signals are mixed. Last time we met, the administration team rejected our health insurance proposal on the grounds that it violates state benefit laws. We had proposed that all faculty with an annual appointment of .5 FTE or above receive PEBB benefits, regardless of their term-to-term FTE. Currently, a faculty member who teaches, say, only in the fall and spring terms has no coverage during the winter term, even if her FTE is greater than .5 for the year as a whole.

We are not convinced that our proposal is in conflict with state rules. On the contrary, our research indicates that health insurance can continue in the situations we described. We asked the administration’s team to explain their reasoning; they agreed that if no legal obstacle exists, then we could talk about costs.

Appeal of Tenure Denials

For its part, the administration team proposed some changes to the tenure review and promotion process and the tenure appeals procedure. Many of their changes were items we had proposed and we are glad to see progress toward agreement.

Unfortunately, the administration still insists that, in order to pursue the internal tenure denial appeals process (through the PTRAC), a faculty member must waive his or her statutory rights to sue. This stand is perplexing on several levels. First, this proposal contradicts the current Oregon Administrative Rules (OARs) that say that faculty members lose their right to appeal when they sue, but do not lose their right to sue when they appeal. The administration’s proposal would therefore encourage faculty to sue rather than pursue internal appeal through PTRAC. We hope that in these budget-conscious times, the administration team will see the wisdom of limiting lawsuits, rather than encouraging them.

We’re back to the table next Thursday at 2:00 p.m.in the Knight Library Collaboration Center, room 122. Sessions have been tending to end around 4:00 p.m. or so, so by all means come early!

Bargaining Update — May 11, 2015

We had a short bargaining session on Thursday. We were able to come to agreement on Article 11, which clarifies the release time provision for union officers. We also gave the administration team proposals on fringe benefits and professional ethics. In the fringe benefits proposal, we proposed that the Union and the University work together to set up an endowed fund that would provide child care subsidies to all members of the university community and/or augment on-campus child care facilities.

The administration team gave us counterproposals on arbitration and discipline. After a series of exchanges on the arbitration article, the administration proposed that we simply leave the article as-is. The conversation concerning discipline centered the administration’s currently unlimited right to place a faculty member on paid administrative leave while investigating potential discipline. The union has proposed a strict 45-day limit to paid administrative leave, while the administration proposes a 75-day limit with the option to extend it for various loosely defined reasons. We have yet to reach agreement on that issue.

The administration offered its counter-proposal on health insurance, rejecting our proposal to extend health insurance benefits to more part-time faculty. Their rationale: “it would cost $500,000 annually to benefit 76 faculty members, and that did not seem to us a good use of our resources.” We are confident that ensuring the health and well-being of 76 faculty members will do more to promote the academic mission than many things the university is currently willing to spend $500,000 on each year.

Lastly, we had a discussion about the university’s inclement weather policy. The university currently has one, but there are several aspects of it that are loosely or not at all defined. For instance, there is a requirement that “essential personnel” come to campus, no matter the weather. However, “essential personnel” is not defined. We had some conversation back and forth about the best way to clarify the policy so there is no confusion in the future.

The conversation that will have a big impact on everyone – salary – is coming this Thursday, on May 14, so please weigh in at the General Membership Meeting on Wednesday, May 13th, 5–7 p.m. in the EMU Ballroom. The bargaining team will be responding to the administration’s disappointing opening offer, and we will hear reports on the state and local politics of higher education from State Representative Paul Holvey (District 8) and Lane County Commissioner Pete Sorenson.

On Thursday bargaining will begin, as always, at 2:00 p.m. in the Knight Library Collaboration Center, Room 122. Everyone is welcome to attend for as long as they can.

Bargaining Update — May 4, 2015

In bargaining last Thursday, the two teams exchanged several proposals and came close to agreement on several key matters. On several others, however, we remain far apart.

United Academics presented counter proposals on facilities and workspaces, academic ranks and titles, and summer session. The majority of the changes we proposed were minor and we hope the administration team can accept them all. We also proposed that all temporary positions be referred to as “visiting” rather than “adjunct,” to remove the stigma of that term from any faculty member’s title. You can find an explanation for our position on why this phrasing matters in last week’s bargaining update.

The administration’s team brought several proposals, including a tentative agreement on internal governance policies wherein we agreed that faculty have the right to propose modifications to internal governance procedures, merit raise policies, and promotion and review criteria.

Their proposal on contracts generated the most conversation, especially their rejection of United Academics’ proposal that there should be limits on the reasons for terminating a Career NTT faculty member. Currently, the administration can terminate a Career NTT colleague for almost any reason. Under our proposal, those reasons would be limited to poor performance, financial exigency, programmatic changes, or replacement of an NTT position with a tenure-track position. The administration team, however, wants to maintain their “flexibility.” When asked, the administration’s team could not think of any reason, other than the four we proposed, why they would terminate a Career NTT position. Yet they still insisted they should not be restricted in any way. As you can imagine, it becomes difficult to have a productive dialogue when the other party refuses to engage.

On the other hand, the administration team did show flexibility on the long-standing union proposal for a sick leave bank. They didn’t agree to our proposal outright, but expressed enthusiasm for the idea and proposed a joint committee to explore the project during the next contract period. The administration also accepted the heart of our proposal on fringe benefits, namely, that faculty working at less than .5 FTE should receive some of the benefits that full-time faculty enjoy, especially bus passes.

We did not present a counter-proposal to the administration’s salary proposal. We anticipate having this proposal soon, but also we want to hear from the membership at the General Membership Meeting on May 13 (5:00-7:00 p.m., EMU Ballroom) before we make any moves.

Our bargaining team would love to have your feedback, and the General Membership Meeting presents an excellent opportunity for that. We hope to see you then!

Bargaining Update: “Visiting” versus “Adjunct”

In one of the early bargaining sessions, the administration’s team proposed several changes to our current system of job titles, classifications, and ranks. One was to create a new classification for “visiting” faculty. Under their proposal, two types of faculty members could be assigned to the “visiting” classification: academic scholars from other institutions who are here for a short time, as well as new PhDs on short-term contracts.

The rationale was this: new faculty should be able to launch their careers using a classification—“visiting”—that would not saddle them with the “adjunct” label. They explained that these young scholars would be soon moving into the academic job market where their chances for tenure-track jobs might be hurt if their c.v. had the dreaded pejorative, “adjunct.”

In our counter-proposal, we accepted the university administration’s reasoning, but applied it to all of our temporary faculty. We proposed that with the exception of postdoctoral scholars, all faculty who work in temporary positions should have the title “visiting.” We reasoned that all of our temporary faculty should be advantaged on the academic job market, should they choose to continue to pursue an academic career elsewhere.

A member of our team, Ron Bramhall, spoke eloquently on the meaning of “adjunct” and how the word is used to stigmatize faculty. An adjunct, Ron explained, is something joined or added to another thing but is not an essential part of it. By definition, the term “adjunct” insinuates that a number of our colleagues are not really part of the university. Ron rejected the notion that these faculty should be defined as separate, apart, and other.

Unfortunately, the administration’s team rejected our proposal – to abolish stigmatization by referring to all temporary faculty as “visiting” –at our last bargaining session. Instead, they dropped their earlier proposal to classify new scholars “visiting” and are now proposing we return to labeling almost all of our temporary faculty as “adjunct.”

Distressingly, the administration stated that they wanted to preserve and reinforce this stigmatizing and belittling terminology because of its long “tradition” in academia. They want to preserve it even though they understand, by their own admission, that the title “adjunct” can harm the career prospects of anyone who carries such a title, whereas the title “visiting professor” can help them along. The administration is saying, in effect, that it is more important for them to maintain the “traditional” nomenclature than it is to give young faculty a leg up on the job market.

We continue to reject the idea that some of our faculty should have a job title that defines them as outsiders, marks them as inferior, and hurts their prospects for future employment. Working through the Collective Bargaining Agreement, we have been rethinking how our university works, with particular attention to improving the work life of our non-tenure-track faculty. We will continue this work by ensuring the words we use are welcoming, inclusive, and enfranchising.

Bargaining Update — April 21, 2015

After the excitement surrounding the administration’s “offer” of a 0% salary increase, this week’s bargaining session seemed downright prosaic, despite the exchange of several proposals at the table. In this update we’d like to focus on a topic that is vital to our non-tenure-track colleagues, in the hopes of giving everyone a deeper understanding of it.

Last Thursday, both teams devoted a great deal of time to Article 15 (“Academic Ranks”). Under the current language of the CBA, no adjunct position may continue for longer than three years, except for legitimate pedagogical or programmatic reasons. The goal of this rule—which both parties share—is to distinguish more clearly between career positions and temporary jobs with lower pay, fewer benefits, and fewer rights. In the days before our first contract, several departments hired “temporary” faculty for years on end, as if they were not in fact career employees. Article 15 was meant to end that abuse.

But we also recognized that departments need some flexibility around hiring, whether in response to fluctuating enrollments or to enrich the curriculum with the expertise of professionals who want to teach on a strictly temporary basis. Without some means to track adjunct positions or approve extensions, however, there is no way to determine whether the CBA’s rule has been honored or flaunted. Unfortunately, some units are still employing large numbers of “temporary” faculty on an ongoing basis, as if they were not career employees.

For this reason, our team proposed a mechanism for approving adjunct positions that continue longer than three years. Our language would require the Provost to ensure that in every case, the extension was granted for truly legitimate pedagogical or programmatic reasons. Our proposal would also require the Provost to report to United Academics, every time such an exception was given. Our proposal would enable the administration and UA to track adjunct positions more effectively. We think it is a simple, efficient solution that solves a real problem and helps us all achieve a shared goal—to reduce the university’s reliance on temporary labor.

Unfortunately, the administration rejected our proposal outright. When we asked the reason why, the administration’s bargaining team had none to offer. They indicated that they might accept some other mechanism, but they offered no alternative and rejected our entire proposal because they did not like the mechanism we suggested.

Transactions like this confound the bargaining process with frustrating regularity. In this case, the administration rejected a shared principle because there is one small part of its implementation they don’t like, rather than embracing common goals and working out mutually agreeable means to achieve them. This slows down the bargaining process and generates needless tension over problems that should be easy to solve.

So, here is where we stand: United Academics has proposed a simple, effective solution, and the administration says only “no.” We hope that their attitude will change over the coming weeks, so that both parties can compromise on technical disagreements such as this and reach a final agreement before the spring term draws to a close.