Possible Deal on Career Contract Renewals and an End to Bargaining

Dear Colleague,

Collective bargaining has been suspended since March 11. With so much uncertainty about the state of the university and the academy, neither party felt comfortable resuming bargaining. Over the last week, United Academics and the administration have been working  on a deal that would end this round of bargaining uncompleted. We have not yet agreed to a deal, but we wanted to inform you that we are in negotiations. The intent is to reach a deal quickly before the administration carries out their plan to renew Career faculty at just 0.1 FTE. The deadline for renewal notification has been extended to May 8. All members of United Academics will have the opportunity to vote on any deal.

Executive Summary: If we can reach agreement, there would be no across-the-board or merit raise this year, but promotion and post-tenure review raises would still be in effect. The administration would renew almost all non-funding-contingent Career faculty who were above 0.5 FTE this academic year with a contract of at least 0.5 FTE and health insurance benefits for the AY 20-21 academic year. Almost all Career faculty who had appointments below 0.5 FTE would be renewed below 0.5 FTE. Bargaining would start over in January.

In More Detail: The parties have each exchanged a proposal. The basics of each proposal are the same. The two parties, UA and UO Administration, would agree to end this round of bargaining by extending the current CBA until June 30, 2021. We would start bargaining over in January of 2021. Any extension of the CBA would mean that there would be no across-the-board or merit raises for this year. In exchange for us agreeing to no raises this year, most Career faculty whose contracts are up for renewal would receive at least a 0.5 FTE contract for one year. The parties are also in agreement that a limited number of contract non-renewals that were planned before COVID for performance reasons would go through.

Beyond the basics, there are important differences in the proposals. We have not reached agreement on which faculty would be eligible for health insurance and other benefits for the full 2020-21 academic year. We have not agreed on the level of FTE each renewed Career faculty member would receive. We have not agreed on who will determine the criteria for deciding who has their FTE raised, should enrollment or funding dictate an increase in FTE. We have not reached agreement on how maximum course sizes should be set for AY 20-21.

The administration proposed that Career faculty who had a 0.5 FTE in each of the three terms of this academic year would qualify for a 0.5 FTE contract next year and have health insurance. In our proposal, Career faculty who have an annual 0.5 FTE contract would qualify for at least a 0.5 FTE contract with health benefits. Under the administration’s plan, a Career faculty member could have worked more than 0.5 FTE over the course of the academic year, but not be eligible for a 0.5 FTE contract next year: for instance, if a Career faculty member worked only in Fall and Spring terms at 1.0, they would not be eligible for a 0.5 FTE contract this coming year. Similarly, if a Career faculty member worked under a 1.0 contract in Fall and Winter, but only a .33 FTE in Spring, they would not qualify. We seek to eliminate the negative consequences of workload variability – which no one could have imagined would have an impact beyond a particular term – by stating that Career faculty who worked an average of a 0.5 FTE contract this academic year will qualify for at least a 0.5 FTE contract next year.

We also do not agree on the appropriate amount of FTE that should be assigned to faculty. The administration proposes that Career faculty be given either a 0.5 FTE contract or a 0.1 FTE contract. We have proposed that Career faculty who have an annual 1.0 FTE contract be given at least a 0.67 FTE contract; Career faculty between 0.5 and 1.0 receive at least a 0.5 FTE contract; and faculty with less than a 0.5 FTE contract have at minimum a 0.1 FTE renewal.

Both parties anticipate that many Career faculty will see their initial FTE increase as we approach the start of Fall term. While overall enrollment may be down in Fall, there are several areas of campus with a number of faculty up for renewal that, no matter what FTE they initially receive, are likely to see their FTE increase. Moreover, there are places such as the Library where the need for full-time positions will not be affected by any decrease in enrollment or funding.

The administration proposed that they would control when FTE increase notifications would happen and the framework used to determine which specific faculty member will have their FTE increased. We have counter proposed convening a joint labor-management committee to make these decisions and devise these frameworks. Normally, faculty would develop these policies through the shared governance process, but this work needs to be done quickly.

Finally, our experience over the last few years has taught us that schools and colleges have sometimes sought to increase maximum course sizes to deal with spikes in student enrollment instead of hiring faculty or increasing FTE. Though there may be many valid pedagogical reasons to increase or decrease the size of a course, we do not believe that increases to course size should be used to manage labor issues or address budget shortfalls. We are proposing that maximum class sizes for next academic year be the same in each term as they were for this academic year. Given that there may be valid reasons for an increase in class size, we suggest that the labor-management committee mentioned above could review and approve requests for an increase in course size. We do not, however, believe that the administration can be left with the ability to unilaterally change course sizes during the next academic year. We believe that the temptation to increase course size instead of increasing FTE may prove too great and must be managed through joint oversight.

Potential Wage Cuts: The administration’s recent wage cut proposal – aka the PPR – is not part of this agreement. This agreement would take the issue of 0.1 FTE contracts for Careers off the table but would not address the administration’s desire to have a triggered wage cut plan to address budget shortfalls. We anticipate conversations over the PPR to be ongoing and deliberate. We are in full concord with the leadership of the University Senate: any long-lasting wage cut plan that impacts the entire community should be careful, creative, and inclusive. A thoughtful wage cut plan will take time, but we felt that it was important to address the renewals for Career contracts sooner rather than later.

When we discussed the possibility of this plan with our stewards and representatives on Wednesday, some wondered why we would want to take a “half-loaf” measure, rather than either call the admin’s bluff or fight them. It was pointed out that many of our Career faculty can no more live on a half paycheck than they can live on 10% of one. These are very good points. The Executive Council and the bargaining team believe that securing health insurance and retirement benefits for almost all Career faculty up for renewal would be a huge relief to many. The majority of the emails we received from career faculty up for renewal expressed a desire to relieve anxiety as quickly as possible, especially anxiety over losing health insurance during a pandemic. We believe a deal along the lines described above is the best chance we have of relieving that anxiety.

Why not let the membership vote on the wage cut/full employment proposal instead?: The other major theme of many emails we received – but not all of them – was that the proposal the administration put forward was not something people would approve. Everyone acknowledged the need to address the Career renewal question, but many people expressed deep reservations about the plan as proposed. The administration, while maintaining that they were willing to keep talking, did not seem willing to explore our suggestions for improvement. Knowing that conversations about a wage cut plan that the faculty will accept could stretch on for months, we believe a deal along the lines of the one discussed above is a better option in that it may be achieved relatively quickly and provide security for Career faculty.

Length of Career Renewals: The renewals of Career contracts at 0.5 or higher FTE would be for one year. Administration has made it clear that contract renewals for years 2 or 3 would be 0.1 FTE. We plan to engage with the administration over the summer and next fall about a plan that would shift Career contracts to a system closer to the one that was being discussed in bargaining. We believe those conversations will be even harder now, but they are obviously necessary.

Next Steps: Assuming a deal can be reached with the administration, we are anticipating an electronic vote in week 6. Under our Bylaws, in a crisis the Executive Council can announce an election with 48 hours’ notice. We hope to have a deal completed, posted, and announced with information on how you can vote by the end of the week or next weekend at the latest.

As you know, COVID has shaken everything, and we’re all scrambling to figure out the best paths forward. We appreciate all the words of support that have come in over the last two weeks. We have been so heartened to see that, while we may all have our own ideas about what should be done, we have all been questioning, discussing, and debating in solidarity with one another. We may be 1700 individuals sitting in our own houses, but it is fantastic to hear us speaking as one union.