Bargaining Update — April 13, 2015

We would like to begin this week’s update by thanking Jamie Moffitt, Vice President for Finance and Administration, for her presentation at Friday’s bargaining session. Jamie presented a wealth of information that will inform our bargaining in the coming months. A small group from the bargaining team had the opportunity to meet with Jamie last month to discuss what kind of information we thought would be helpful to have presented, and we appreciate that she focused on the areas we had discussed in that meeting.

Even so, the administration’s economic proposal was insulting. They are offering faculty no raise at all next year and less than 1% merit raise in 2016-2017. The administration also proposed that deans would control 20% of the merit raise and could distribute it at their “sole discretion,” which means that faculty may not even see the full 1%. In contrast, our proposal would provide raises to address the rising cost of living, reward meritorious teaching, research, and service, and address our ongoing equity problem. The administration’s proposal accomplishes none of these things.

Here’s why the administration’s proposal is unacceptable.

First, their proposal does nothing to keep pace with the cost of living. The Bureau of Labor Statistics measured the increase in the consumer price index for our region at 2.4% last year. The annual cost of living increase has averaged 2.28% since 2010. At that average, faculty need 4.56% raises just to keep up with inflation.

Second, a 1% merit raise in the second year does not adequately reward merit or recognize excellence. Worse, it further erodes the autonomy of departments in assessing merit.

Third, their proposal addresses neither our internal nor our external equity issues. While some departments and units have caught up to their comparators across the country, others lag far behind. Compression and inversion still bedevil many departments and units, and Hthe administration’s proposal would only exacerbate these problems. The administration’s proposal also ignores our ongoing gender equity problem.

For most faculty, the administration’s proposal would amount to a pay cut. Overall, it would cause the University of Oregon to fall further behind our comparators. According to their own data, our AAU peers are averaging 3-4% raises every year. A two-year period with a 1% raise will leave us 5-7% behind our comparators when we are next at the table.

We have been saying for months now that budgets reflect priorities. During her presentation, Jamie Moffitt said several times that investing in the people who make the university great is a top priority for the administration. This is what makes the administration’s proposal befuddling. If there is one thing their proposal does not do, it is invest in faculty.

Bargaining can be a long, difficult process. It does not have to be that way, but apparently “long and difficult” is the road the administration has chosen to travel.

Statement on the University Administration’s Economic Proposal

First, we’d like to thank Jamie Moffitt, Vice President for Finance and Administration, for her presentation at bargaining today. Jamie presented a wealth of information that will inform our bargaining in the coming months. A small group from the bargaining team had the opportunity to meet with Jamie last month to discuss what kind of information we thought would be helpful to have presented, and we appreciate that she focused on the areas we discussed in that meeting.

Even so, the university administration’s actual economic proposal was, in our view, insulting. Our proposal would provide raises to address the rising cost of living, reward meritorious teaching, research, and service, and address our ongoing equity problem. The university administration’s proposal accomplishes none of these things.

They are offering faculty no raise at all next year and less than 1% merit raise in 2016-2017. Bargaining unit faculty may not even see the full 1%, as the university administration proposed that deans would control 20% of the paltry 1% raise and could distribute it at their “sole discretion.” We have several concerns about their proposal.

First, their proposal does nothing to keep pace with the cost of living. The Bureau of Labor Statistics measured the increase in the consumer price index for our region at 2.4% last year. The annual cost of living increase has averaged 2.28% since 2010. At that average, faculty need 4.56% raises just to keep up with inflation.

Second, a 1% merit raise in the second year does not adequately reward merit or recognize excellence.

Third, their proposal addresses neither our internal nor our external equity issues. While some departments and units have caught up to their comparators across the country, several others lag far behind. Compression and inversion still bedevil many departments and units, and the administration’s proposal would only exacerbate these problems. The university administration’s proposal also ignores our ongoing gender equity problem.

So, we still have a lot of work to do. The university administration’s proposal is not close to adequate, nor did they propose anything to address our ongoing problems. They said they were willing to talk, but so far they have offered no solutions. There will need to be many conversations. These conversations will unfold over the course of the coming months. We will, as always, keep you informed—and we count on hearing from you as well.

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Bargaining Update — April 6, 2015

The tone of last Thursday’s bargaining session—the first of spring term—was relatively quiet. Perhaps this is the calm before our next session on Friday, April 10, when the university administration unveils its economic proposal. Please make every effort to attend this session. Our ability to bargain fair raises will largely depend on the administration understanding that faculty are deeply interested in this topic. The session will begin at 2:00 in the Knight Library Collaboration Center, Room 122, and conclude at 6:00.

Last Thursday was also the first session for the newest member of United Academics’ team, Mike Strain (CAMCOR). Mike brings a wealth of experience and information that will be invaluable as we work through the remaining articles, particularly those that deal with sponsored research on campus.

The two sides exchanged five articles. Most of the conversation centered on two articles that dealt, respectively, with tenure-track faculty promotion and appeal from denial of promotion. We believe the two parties are close on almost all details. The few remaining disagreements concern the details of an appeal from the denial of tenure. We believe that ensuring transparency is paramount, so faculty have access to as many documents and as much understanding of their case as possible. The administration worries about protecting the confidentiality of sources. Both parties recognize the importance of both transparency and confidentiality; our conversation is about striking the right balance between these goals.

The devil lurks in the details. When, for example, a faculty member has been denied tenure and has appealed that decision, her/his academic career can turn on the redaction of external review letters, who redacts, and at what point the faculty member is permitted to see those reviews.

We also continued our conversation about which faculty should be in the bargaining unit and which faculty should be not. The administration’s team continues to insist that faculty who hold an appointment for less than six weeks should be excluded from the bargaining unit. Unfortunately, the administration’s team cannot show how many faculty would be affected, so that accepting their proposal would mean taking a blind leap of faith. We will continue to work with the administration’s team to find a workable solution.

In their final proposal, the administration put forward a proposal on internal governance policies that clarified some minor points. We are almost in agreement on this proposal.

We only had one proposal this time, involving standards of proof in discipline cases that come before an arbitrator. Our proposal stipulates the highest standard of proof in discipline cases—beyond a reasonable doubt—and a lower standard—preponderance of evidence—for all other cases. The administration wants our CBA to contain a clear standard of evidence for arbitrators to use, rather than leaving the matter to an arbitrator’s discretion. If the administration agrees to our proposal, both parties will know in advance what standard of evidence will apply, which is good for everyone.

Bargaining Update — March 16, 2015

Our fifth bargaining session did not see many proposals exchanged, but was a full session with meaningful discussions.

The University Administration team began by explaining why they were not ready to respond to our salary proposal. As we explained in our last update, United Academics recognizes the administration’s belief that little money remains in the budget for bringing faculty salaries closer to average. Our team had expressed the hope that both sides would find ways to address the ongoing salary problem. The administration team explained that they wanted more time to work on creative solutions to the problems we face, and we are happy to give them the time they need. Our conversations can certainly be more productive if we receive the financial information we have requested from the administration.

The two parties also exchanged proposals on promotion policies for Non-Tenure Track Faculty and Tenure-Track Faculty. At this point, our differences seem mostly grammatical or technical. The main obstacle to agreement, at this point, has to do with determining when part-time NTT faculty are eligible for promotion.

After the exchange of proposals concluded, we entered a wide-ranging discussion of externally-funded research on campus and how it can be enhanced while also protecting the rights of those who work in them. The parties discussed ways to integrate wage packages into preexisting grants and to guarantee “grant contingent faculty” as much job security as possible.

One of our longer discussions was the problem of OPE (Other Payroll Expenses) for post-doctoral scholars. In contrast to most universities, the University of Oregon considers post-docs to be faculty and affords them the same retirement and health-care benefits that “regular” faculty enjoy—although because they will never be able to vest in PERS, that money spent on their behalf does not benefit them. While our arrangement is not unique, it is unusual and it can cause our Principal Investigators difficulty when competing for grants. If PI’s are unable to recruit post-docs, less research gets done. These constraints can also inhibit our ability to work on joint projects with other universities, which can often bring more people to the project for the same amount of money. The relatively high cost of post-docs here also limits their numbers and the AAU considers a robust post-doctoral program an essential marker for AAU membership.

We made it clear to the administration team that United Academics is eager to engage and seek solutions to these problems. We also made it clear that we were open to discussing any option with them. We have as much interest in ensuring a strong research program as they do. We did stipulate that our goal of enhancing scientific research at the UO can generate tension with our goal to ensure that all faculty enjoy the working conditions and compensation they deserve. To their credit, the administration team agreed with us that these were joint goals for which we should work together to find creative solutions.

We also agreed that, as far as the post-doc OPE is concerned, we may need a legislative solution, because the biggest drivers of employee overhead – PERS and PEBB – were mandated by state law. We told the administration team that if we could work together on a legislative solution, we would be happy to flex our muscle in Salem to realize our shared agenda.

At this point, we do not know the schedule or location of the next bargaining session, but we will alert you as soon as we do.

College of Education Town Hall

On Friday afternoon, fifteen tenure-track, research, and instructional NTT faculty from the College of Education met with their United Academics assembly representatives and stewards. It was an opportunity for the reps and stewards to understand the diverse experiences across the college and for faculty to share their concerns and questions. United Academics’ Executive Director, Dave Cecil, was also present to answer questions about the CBA and current proposals under discussion at the bargaining table. One of the major concerns expressed by COE faculty was that while salary increases are much appreciated, but if they are not already written into funded grants, the increases create hardship in research centers that have no external support from the university administration. Everyone felt this was a good beginning of two-way sharing between UA and faculty in the COE. Town-hall meetings will be scheduled across campus in spring term.

Bargaining Update – March 2, 2015

On Thursday, the union and the administration bargaining teams met for the fourth time. The main subject of negotiations was the union’s salary proposal. Our proposal addresses the longstanding problems in faculty compensation and press the bar for academic and research excellence at the UO.

The White Papers issued by the University Senate in 2000 and 2001 explained how low salaries damaged the university’s stature and our ability to recruit and retain faculty. After nearly a decade in which the UO failed to correct these misplaced priorities, President LaRiviere finally committed the university to matching faculty compensation with our peers by 2011. This, of course, did not happen. Our first bargaining agreement made significant progress toward parity with our comparator universities. Our current package closes the gap and refocuses UO’s investment in teaching and research excellence.

Over the past few months, various administrators have been informing various committees that the University of Oregon is all but flat broke. An important aspect of these talks has been the message that there was very little money left for faculty salary increases.

At the bargaining table on Thursday, we shared information that the Vice Provost for Budget and Planning, Brad Shelton, had presented recently on proposed tuition increases. Essentially, Shelton said that all but $1.2 million of the new dollars were already accounted for, and that $1.2 million was all that was left for all salaries across campus.

We let the administration team know that we fundamentally reject the idea that the proper way to construct budgets was to budget for all items save salary increases, find out what money is left over, then offer that money as the only money available for salaries. Given that faculty—and all staff at the university—are vital to fulfilling the core mission of research and undergraduate and graduate education, it is incumbent on the administration to budget for salaries first, not last. This means we also reject the idea that salary increases must come from tuition increases.

Our proposal on salaries puts priorities in the their proper order. As your bargaining team, our job is to tell the administration what faculty need to recruit and retain outstanding colleagues to our campus. Our proposal places this priority first; over the coming months, we will be happy to work with the administration to find the money needed to fund it.

Our salary package proposes an average of 7% increases in the first year of the contract and 6.5% increases in the second year, for an overall cost of roughly $16 million in real dollars over the two years.

As a team, we recognized early in our discussions that our diverse bargaining unit has a diversity of needs related to salary. External equity raises may be important for one department, but meaningless for another. Where our lowest-paid faculty may be looking for large increases to the minimum salaries, other faculty might be hoping that we secure increases for post-promotion reviews. We tried our best to propose a package that balances all of our needs and wants, but doesn’t grow so large that it becomes obviously untenable.

The proposal itself is 7 pages long and our presentation of it ran to ninety minutes. We obviously cannot recapitulate the full presentation here. Instead, we’ve created a bullet-pointed summary of the proposal that gives an overview, and the full proposal can be read at the link. We also issued a press release that further glosses the thinking behind the proposal.

What follows is a brief summary of the major points of the salary proposal.

Workload Increase Adjustments

In some departments and units on campus, administration has increased workload without also increasing base salaries or FTE. In other units, administration has adjusted FTEs down as raises have gone into effect, but without a corresponding decrease in workload. The union has been working to stop these practices when we hear about them and this proposal would make it clear that faculty cannot have their workloads increased without an adjustment to their base salaries.

Salary Floors

We proposed a 10% increase to the current salary floors, with an elimination of the lower rates for adjunct and research faculty. The proposed increase to the floors was substantial, but still less than the salary minimums at Portland State University. We also noted that all but 67 non-athletics administrators earn more than these floors.

Cost-of-Living-Adjustments (COLA)

We proposed a 2.5% COLA to base salaries in both years of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The 2.5% is based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics measurement for the Portland/Salem region in 2014. This increase is necessary to maintain our real wages.

Equity Adjustments

We proposed two different types of equity raises: internal and external. We felt it was important to address both issues because some departments and programs have internal equity issues, while others are well behind their AAU comparators.

Our internal equity proposal was for both tenure-related and non-tenure-track faculty, although money would be in separate pools. Under our proposal, each department or program would distribute their money based on local circumstances, addressing inequities related to salary compression, inversion, gender, and retirement plan disparities.

Our external equity proposal was for tenure-related faculty and librarians. We used the average salaries at public universities in the AAU to show which disciplines and ranks are furthest behind our peers. Money would be gradually distributed until it was gone or until all salaries were raised to within 95% of their peer average.

We did not propose money for external equity raises for non-tenure-track faculty because of the difficulty of finding metrics that measure NTTF across the academy. Universities assign many different titles to NTT faculty, making true comparisons almost impossible. The money that would have been in an NTTF external equity pool was used to raise the salary floors instead.

Merit Adjustments

We proposed merit raises for both tenure-related and non-tenure-track faculty, again in separate pools of money. We proposed 2% merit pools in the first year and 4% merit pools in the second year, the money being distributed based on the policies developed by units last year.

Promotion Raises

We proposed maintaining raises of at least 8% upon promotion for both the tenure-related and non-tenure-track faculty. Promotion raises reward hard work and recognize that faculty are fulfilling the mission of the university.

We also sought to fix the “major review” problem where the language we bargained last time seemed to indicate that only faculty who were successful in their first major review after promotion would earn a raise. We have adjusted the language to ensure that all successful major (6th-year) reviews after promotion to full professor are recognized with a raise.

The first round of UA raises, the first in 5 or 6 years for many colleagues, made a start on the long-standing problem of low salaries for UO faculty. We clearly have more work to do. When he was the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, Interim President Coltrane predicted that the collective bargaining agreement would help staunch the hemorrhage of good faculty by providing regular salary increases. We agree: with regular salary increases, faculty won’t feel that the only way to keep up is to leave the UO. “Competitive excellence” requires support for outstanding, experienced, and committed UO faculty and staff.