Summer Bargaining So Far

United Academics and the administration reconvened last week to discuss potential salary cuts, the restoration of fall FTE for affected Career faculty, and a plan for expectation of continuing employment for all Career faculty.

The bargaining conversations have begun with each side presenting and discussing the principles that inform their thinking on the issues we’re bargaining. Our primary goals are to restore FTE for those who were renewed with low FTE in the spring and to institute an expectation of continued employment that would eliminate the administration’s ability to dramatically change career faculty FTE year to year. We have also been working to establish a fair threshold for a salary cut plan. While we agree with the administration that a salary cut might be a necessary part of addressing a major budget crisis, we maintain that employee wage cuts cannot be the only means of addressing difficulties.

We have made some progress on how to address both the expectation of continued employment and wage cuts. Both parties agree that FTE should be restored, although there is a remaining disagreement about whether all FTE be restored or whether the administration can still renew with lower FTE if cuts were planned “pre-COVID.” In addition, we have agreed that Career faculty who opted to pull their promotion case because of the threat of a lower FTE contract can choose to reinitiate the promotion process and have their promotion review finalized this summer.

Pay Cuts

United Academics recognizes that the university may not be in a position to meet all of its financial obligations due to changes in enrollment and state appropriations caused by COVID. We have agreed that in order for the university to continue to meet its instructional and research missions it may be necessary for faculty to take temporary pay cuts.

Still, questions remain: What is the scale of those cuts? How will any savings be used? What are the triggers for cuts? How are those cuts distributed across the university?

Both teams have been working toward answers to these questions, but our basic principle has been that the administration must look to use other resources before they ask employees for wage cuts. They have generally agreed with this principle, proposing that the administration be responsible for any deficit up to $10M and for all deficits over $35M, meaning that employees would need to take wage cuts to account for the remaining $25M. Of that $25M, the administration has tentatively estimated that cuts to bargaining unit faculty salaries would amount to $7.8M.

We have suggested that faculty would be more comfortable with a higher threshold, arguing that the savings the administration has derived through the hiring freeze, the salary freeze, and savings on travel will amount to more than $10M. We have suggested that a threshold of $25M and a cap of $50M seems more fair.

One of the main challenges in the conversation is the uncertainty we all face. It is very difficult to predict how deep the deficits we face will be. We have agreed that employee salary cuts will be used to cover deficits caused by tuition revenue decline this year and cuts to the state subsidy next year. Both sides seem to agree a two-year wage cut package is appropriate, but neither of us has a very good idea of how deep the cuts will go. Obviously, the administration would like a lower threshold before faculty salary cuts are triggered, hoping for smaller deficits that don’t reach the cap. We also hope for small deficits, wanting the threshold to be higher, hoping not to reach it at all.

When we do have an agreement on the triggers for the salary cuts and how much they might be, United Academics will have a progressive pay cut plan for the amount we will be facing developed by our Economics Team (E-Team). Although we have just begun discussing what kind of plan might be appropriate, we have agreed to work together to come up with a final model. We plan to share our E-Team’s model broadly. Suffice it to say it is a very standard “tax” plan with marginal tax rates that increase with income. It has been crafted to be progressive, to exempt as many lower-wage faculty as possible, and to minimize discontinuities in contributions (so that similar salaries are affected similarly).

Continuing Employment for Career Faculty

United Academics believes that the administration should abide by the collective bargaining agreement and that the 3-year contracts earned by promoted Career faculty should be real contracts that represent a commitment to those faculty. The administration, on the other hand, believes that it is proper to provide Career faculty with a contract where they guarantee full-time work for one year and then only 0.1 FTE in subsequent years. In most cases, the work in the out-years of a 3-year contract will still exist, and these contracts represent an administrator’s desire to feel better looking at future budget projections, as opposed to an assessment of the actual needs of the institution.

Our goal in negotiating expectation of continuing employment is to stop the administration from using Career faculty who happen to be up for renewal as flexibility to deal with temporary fluctuations in either enrollment or money, and thus to stop the administration from punishing faculty for their inability to plan for future enrollment needs or accumulate sufficient reserves.

Our current proposal is a system by which Career faculty cannot have their FTE reduced by more than 0.1 FTE in a given year, and in such a situation that FTE would be restored for the next academic year. Faculty could still be terminated for performance reasons or for academic or programmatic changes, but they could not have their FTE reduced slowly until they were out of a career. In the event of academic or programmatic reorganization that might eliminate the need for a position, we propose a committee that can verify the rationale for those possible position cuts.

The other part of this proposal would be a force majeure clause which would allow the university more flexibility in the event of a declared emergency. We are working through the details of what sorts of additional leeway they should have in such cases and what mechanisms will be put in place to keep such a system from being abused. Stay tuned for more information on this front!

Come to Bargaining

While we are making progress, we are still far apart on some issues. The more faculty are logging into our Zoom sessions, listening in, and providing feedback to our team, the stronger our position. Your participation shows the administration that the faculty are paying attention and sweeping changes will not come easily. Not for nothing, it buoys the Bargaining Team to see high numbers of participants in our Zoom session! Some faculty who have been attending the sessions report that it is the best time they have had in their lives. Others have lived more adventurous lives, but still report the conversations to be fascinating. Everyone agrees that you can have the conversation on in the background while you get other work done.

Bargaining sessions typically run several hours, so please feel free to “attend” for as little or as much as your schedule allows. You can register here, and will then receive a Zoom link via email. Please note that while all sessions are listed as a default 9am-5pm, the actual meeting times will vary – we’ll keep the UA bargaining page updated with that schedule.