University of Alaska, clash of teachers in labor negotiations

The University of Alaska Systems Board of Regents has approved salary increases for faculties – but the faculty union says the move comes amid premature, ongoing negotiations and federal meditation.

Leaders of the system, however, argued that with last week’s state legislature ending, Alaska lawmakers needed to approve the increase last week, given the strict deadline for submitting salary increases to the budget proposal, now or never moved. The university leadership claimed that negotiations on a collective bargaining agreement had come to a standstill, even as they continued to engage in a federal meditation process to resolve outstanding issues.

Now United Academics, the faculty union, says a stalemate was misrepresented.

It remains to be seen what will happen next, as the university aims to push ahead with the pay rise that was submitted just in time for approval in Alaska’s 2023 budget before the end of the legislature session. The approved salary increase is less than what the union was requesting.

Breakdown

Although the university’s argument suggests that negotiations are over, union representatives noted that the process has been ongoing since late last summer. They accused the university of sitting on the union’s initial proposal and dragging compromises.

The University of Alaska made its “best and final offer” to union negotiators in late April. Unable to reach an agreement on a handful of points, such as compensation, and issues related to tenure and academic independence, the union and the university mutually agreed to enter into meditation.

The session was scheduled for May. But on May 16, two days before the next session with the Federal Arbitration and Conciliation Service, the university declared a standstill.

“This morning, in a unanimous vote, the Board of Regents took an unprecedented step to approve me to implement the administration’s ‘best and final proposal’ to United Academics. [UNAC]. The move follows talks on stalemate and a failed attempt to reach an agreement through federal mediation, which led to the stalemate, “UAE President Pat Pitney wrote in a message to the university community.” Before the end of the session, there was no way for the legislature to get the financial terms. According to the law, the university cannot increase the salary and benefits of any union member without the legislature including the financial terms of the joint bargaining agreement in the budget. “

Despite announcing a stalemate, the UA appeared in federal meditation two days later.

“We see the unilateral declaration of stagnation as inappropriate,” said Tony Richard, chief lecturer at United Academics and professor of mathematics at Fairbanks University in Alaska. “Because a stalemate can only be declared when the mediation does not reach an agreement and the mediation is not over. They mutually agreed to meet with us for another session, which did not happen. “

Negotiations have been going on since August, despite last-minute moves from the UA. A university spokesman said in an email that a stalemate had been declared because the talks had failed.

“The mediation will only continue if the parties believe it is effective. The mediation confirmed that there was a huge gap between UNAC’s proposal and the university’s best and final proposal, “a university spokesman wrote to Inside Higher Aid. “More importantly, neither side is making significant concessions on significant issues. That is the legal definition of labor stagnation. “

Ricard refrained from accusing the university of running out of time to negotiate, but said there was a proposal from the union that took months for the UAE to respond. In the end, he believes, the crisis of time can be avoided and the negotiations drag on.

The University of Alaska argues that the union is responsible for the slow negotiations. More. Reviewing and responding to these proposals slows down the discussion. “

Considering the stalemate between the parties, UA made its “best and final offer” on April 25. When it was rejected by union mediators that “did not result in meaningful movements on important issues” the university could declare a stalemate, a spokesman said.

Salary increases approved by the Board of Regents and later by the Alaska Legislature include 3 percent for 2023, 2.5 percent for 2024, and 2 percent for 2025. In contrast, university documents show that the union was asked for 5 percent. Percentage salary increase for 2023, and 3% salary increase for 2024 and 2025 and additional cost of living and base salary increase.

The “estimated total impact in 3 years, including staff benefits,” was $ 15 million under the university’s proposal, documents show, compared to $ 79 million for funding the union’s plan.

The University of Alaska notes that the offer includes “many of the conditions that UNAC wanted for its members প্রথম the first significant increase, as well as the first increase in the pension base for the first time in many years.” “

The university further argued that the union’s proposed pay rise was not sustainable.

But Ricard argues that promotions are long overdue, given that union membership has received only a salary increase in the last six years, which was only a 1 percent increase. The proposal would help keep Alaska competitive and faculty members safe from rising inflation.

Ricard said he hopes to continue negotiations with the university. He sees the current move as not only inadequate, but inappropriate and even a violation of Alaska’s labor laws. While refraining from threatening legal action, he noted that the union had contacted legal counsel on the matter.

“What the Board of Regents did wrong is that they voted for the UAE president to approve the implementation of the last best offer. In other words, they allowed him to go ahead and call it a ‘deal’. And they’re doing it in violation of Alaska’s labor laws in our view because it only happens when the arbitration agreement fails, “Ricard said.” And it didn’t happen. The arbitration is going on. It’s not over. “

What next?

Legal experts suggest that it is not uncommon for concurrent bargaining agreements to end in meditation. Once the process begins, meditators work with both sides to break the stalemate.

“The Federal Arbitration and Conciliation Service is working with the parties when it comes to their role and to see if they can help broker an agreement between the two parties,” said Michael Bartensini, a lawyer at the law firm Jackson Lewis who works on labor relations. . “They often get involved in games with the teams fairly late when it is a shame. And they often try to break that logjam by shuttle diplomacy, sometimes making their own proposals and floating to the parties to see if they can move the process forward. “

How long the process takes depends on the distance between the parties to the complaint and the issue, he added. Every situation is variable, some are resolved quickly while others tend to drag.

William A. Herbert, a prominent lecturer at the Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education at Hunter College, New York City University, and executive director of the Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining, says meditation brings outward perspectives, but not directed solutions.

“There is no mediator to impose any kind of agreement. Sometimes mediators can suggest ways to approach things for the parties to consider and sometimes they will go further in getting involved in making a formal proposal for the parties, ”Herbert explained. “Usually, however, mediators work with the parties to try to bridge the gap between their views on the issues that were not initially resolved.”

Bertoncini notes that it is unusual for a university to declare a stalemate while still engaged in active contract negotiations, but he suggests that this does not mean that these negotiations are doomed.

“It is unusual to declare a stalemate in the sense that the party has no place to move, while participating in mediation means willing to change its position to reach an agreement,” he said. “However, the university may be pointing out that there is no room for advance on wages in the first year of the agreement, but it is willing to move on to other terms of the proposal to reach a multilateral agreement. Contract of the year. “

Herbert described the move to declare a stalemate while still discussing it as contradictory.

“A stalemate means that one party believes in good faith that future negotiations will not result in a temporary agreement on all outstanding issues,” Herbert said. “Agreeing to continue negotiations through mediation to reach a temporary agreement opposes a claim that there is a stalemate in negotiations.”

For the record, he just wants to get back to the negotiating table.

“We hope to work with the University of Alaska mediator next week to reach an agreement on membership. If they try to move forward with the implementation of their last best offer, we are considering and planning for other situations and other options, they are very unpleasant for both parties, “Ricard said.” When we analyze other situations, and how we respond. Our goal is to continue working with the University of Alaska through a mediation process to reach a new agreement. “

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