A Question of Transparency

On Tuesday, our bargaining team met with the administration’s bargaining team to kick off a new round of bargaining.

Although both parties are eager to bargain over the important provisions of the collective bargaining agreement, we must first establish the ground rules for negotiations.  Fortunately, the parties are on the same page on every issue except one. Where we differ is over who will have the ability to watch the bargaining sessions.

Read the administration proposal here.
Read our proposal here.

The administration would like to keep the sessions open only to bargaining unit members. Their reasoning is that bargaining works best when the two parties can speak to each other freely without concern for who may be listening. The idea that the parties can be more honest with each other behind closed doors is common in labor relations. They told us that they were willing to have the bargaining unit faculty watch as a compromise offer.

We want the bargaining sessions fully open to whomever wants to watch. We offered to the administration team several reasons to keep the sessions open. First and foremost, transparency is a founding principle of our union. We explained to them that many of the faculty who formed United Academics did so because of their frustration with the opacity of the administration. Transparency has been a key theme of everything we do at United Academics.

We also explained that open bargaining has been the tradition at the university, and we don’t see any need to change it. All of the United Academics collective bargaining agreement sessions have been open to the public. So have those of the other campus unions, the GTFF and SEIU.

Given that our bargaining impacts so many on campus – non-bargaining unit faculty, OAs, and students – we believe that everyone has the right to engage with the process that will inform their years at the university. We have always invited people to watch bargaining and give us feedback. We are fighting to make the university a better place to work and study, so having all voices informing our decisions is vital.

Finally, we argued that the open, honest exchange of ideas was the hallmark of the academy. It is counter-intuitive to think that meeting behind closed doors leads to a more full and robust debate. We believe that only those with something to hide want to control who hears what they have to say.

While the administration team kindly listened to our arguments, they remained mostly unmoved. They did offer to have the sessions open for everyone to watch but wanted to reserve “the right” to close the sessions, if they felt it was needed. We told them that this idea did not sound like a fair compromise, nor one we could agree to. The session ended there, as we were out of time. We will resume this conversation at our next session.

The question of who can watch bargaining is not the most vital issue we will discuss at the table. It will not provide Career faculty with more job security. It will not clarify tenure-track review standards. It will not increase anyone’s salary. We believe, however, that the question of transparency is foundational to how we conduct ourselves as a university and a union. As we explained to the administration team, it is at the core of our mission as a union. It is just as vital to us as democracy, fairness, academic excellence, diversity, access to education, and economic opportunity.

Although we didn’t raise the issue at the table, the administration’s position on the transparency question is especially confusing given that President Schill has made transparency one of the campus’s core values as well. “Trust can only be built through transparency,” he wrote on October 10, 2019 in a message laying out his principles. We hope to discuss this apparent contradiction in administration thinking at our next session.

The next session is not scheduled at this time, but we will send all union members a notification when the schedule is confirmed. We encourage everyone to join us.