Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Negotiations resume

Randy Auxier can correct me here if I'm wrong, as I'm mainly summarizing his report (together with his fellow bargaining team member Daren Callahan) at the FA meeting tonight (Tuesday). The FA bargaining team met this morning with their administrative counterparts for the first time since the administration's imposition of terms. The FA proposed a discussion of workload issues. I'm no expert on this topic, but such concerns are particularly pressing in CASA, where the disconnect between contact hours and credit hours has generated all sorts of problems not readily reducible to the 12 credit hour per semester rule. The administration suggested distance learning, and the FA team agreed--as one of the issues here is indeed how to manage workload and compensation issues. The discussion (more on it after the break) was positive in tone and content, as, at least on the level of general principles, little appears to separate the administration from the FA on this issue.

This is, Randy emphasized, precisely the sort of positive conversation that could have taken place months ago, had the administration team not been focused solely on seeking FA agreement to the four furlough days and, failing that, on getting to impasse. Distance education and workload were among the major items the two sides have never really had the chance to discuss earlier.

The administration is moving to shift 'ownership' of distance ed to the academic programs, so that decisions about distance learning would be made in the same way as decisions about other academic programs. And the administration expressed its interest in not undercutting on-campus offerings through an incentive structure that would motivate departments and individuals to shift their efforts from on-campus to off-campus courses. All this is well and good.

And in addition to working out the details of compensation, the major hurdle here from the FA perspective is ensuring that departmental faculty are the prime authors of departmental operating papers. The FA has proposed a procedure in which faculty can override administrative objections to their operating paper revisions. The administration has complained that the FA wants to contractualize everything on campus, as this imposes a one size fits all standard on campus.  But the FA is in fact quite willing to leave such matters to individual academic units--so long as there is a process in place that ensures that faculty will be able to design and manage their programs.

We should of course not assume that one positive session means that all our problems will soon be resolved. The most glaring unresolved issues--salaries and the status of tenure--were not discussed. The idea was to try to make progress on something a bit less difficult. And some preliminary progress may have been made. But before we know it (July 1), we will be in another fiscal year. And if the Chancellor's presentation on Friday is any clue, she is planning on more furlough days next year.


  1. Dave - Wasn't the FA also unwilling to negotiate on the issue of furlough days?

  2. It is good if the administration can allow faculty to develop guidelines/policies and include in their operating papers. However, as I understand today, violations of guidelines/policies outlined in the operating papers cannot be grieved. Thus, administrators can disregard the operating papers at their will. The way Cheng’s administration is working, it is going to happen. Believe me. She has her own set of policies which change hourly depending on what she hears from her inner circle.

  3. To Anonymous 1. The FA was willing to negotiate about furlough days, and presented a proposal on "temporary wage adjustments". You can find it by following the link to "bargaining info" on the right menu of the FA webpage: www.siucfa.org. But the FA had other things to talk about as well--including workload and distance education.

  4. I'm confused. If the FA was willing to negotiate on the issue of furlough days, why did the bargaining end?

  5. Excellent question. The FA saw no reason for bargaining to end, and holds that the administration declared a phony and hence illegal "impasse".

    Now ask the Chancellor your question.

  6. Dave - You are playing word games. What you mean (correct me if I'm wrong) is that the FA would agree to furloughs if the money was paid back in the following fiscal year. One can't expect the administration to agree to pay back the money in the next fiscal year if they don't know the state appropriations or enrollment figures. The following fiscal year could (and likely will be) worse than the current year. This is not the equivalent of willingness to accept furloughs to continue bargaining.

  7. I never said the unions were willing to accept furloughs to continue bargaining. The weren't. They were willing to bargain about furloughs, as I said, which is a rather different thing. You're right that the FA proposal was for a loan rather than a permanent loss of salary. Furloughs are supposed to be designed to meet a short term crisis, so loans seem a rational proposal--certainly not an unreasonable counteroffer in negotiations. Had the administration also been willing to bargain about furloughs--say by offering a guarantee of job security in return, or by converting all or part of them to a loan--they may well have been able to get the approval of the unions.

    Your premise--that the administration can't agree to pay back the money in the next year due to uncertainty about the budget--is a version of the central administration premise I've tried to attack elsewhere. Their claim is that they can't negotiate anything on fiscal matters given the state's budgetary situation. This means they are unwilling to negotiate the terms and conditions of our employment. Regardless of their nice words about good faith and their willingness to meet with the FA bargaining team--and without claiming to know the Chancellor's intentions (which I cannot know, of course)--their current strategy amounts to illegal union busting. It's illegal because they aren't meeting their legal duty to negotiate wages. It's union busting because the only rational goal for their current strategy, at least if they stick to it much longer, is to break the unions.

    This isn't the first union contract to be negotiated in times of financial stress. The FA has tried to come up with ways to allow for flexibility under the contract--by calling for joint faculty-administrative committees to approve things like furloughs (as loans) for temporary crises and layoffs (for a chronic, existential financial exigency). The administration, on the other hand, wants the sole authority to cut our pay by 3% or laying off faculty--and, at least in their contract language, they aren't even required to *say* SIUC faces a financial emergency, much less to prove as much.

    The administration can negotiate changes in the FA's proposed procedures to better protect its interests, propose different procedures of its own, or simply bargain to some set salary figure--without retaining the power to furlough or layoff at its sole discretion. Anything less isn't meaningful contract. They've got lots of positive options. Let's hope they take one of them, and that the two sides are able to meet halfway.

    For the FA's only option if the administration maintains its current position is to go on strike. A union can't sign a contract that gives the employer sole control over wages a layoffs. That would amount to the unions being complicit in their own demise. So if the administration sticks to its current positions, there will be a strike. It could break the unions--or break this administration. Certainly there would be considerable collateral damage in any event. But a central principle of unionization is that a strike is sometimes necessary. If the other side won't negotiate, a strike is necessary.

    Oh, and if you want a case of "word games", consider the term "furlough" as it applies to employees whose duties are not curtailed but whose pay is cut. I may be on furlough today--I can't remember. But my students will expect me to meet for their review session, and I'll need to grade one final and write another. Better finish this comment, then.

  8. You missed something - a strike might also lead to mass layoffs/firings. If this is the what the FA wants they may get it (and they would deserve it). The FA will make a decision to strike without knowing (or caring as far as I can tell) (1) what the faculty outside of the FA (non-dues paying faculty) think about a strike and (2) what the ultimate cost will be for those faculty. This is true even though more than half of the tenured and tenure track faculty at SIU don't belong the FA! This hardly seems like adequate representation.

  9. Anonymous, have you attended any of the many meetings held by the FA? All members of the bargaining unit are welcome. Have you ever talked to your departmental representative?

  10. Meh, was good until you started deleting comments...

  11. Where did the post and comments from yesterday go?

  12. Please tell Randy that his feet stink.

  13. Hadn't you noticed that Blogger was down for the last couple days and wouldn't accept comments? I had a nice retort ready for the comments that disappeared but couldn't post it because Blogger was down. Perhaps Blogger also ate those comments.

    Sorry for not living up to my name. :)

  14. To May 12, 2011 2:27 PM Anonymous:

    Article 19 of the imposed terms allows for mass layoffs regardless of whether there's a strike, a financial emergency or whathaveyou. It can happen whenever the Board decides.

    The FA was given a choice when the impasse was declared:

    A) Accept the imposed terms, knowing that it possibly could lead mass layoffs regardless of the university's true financial situation, and then be blamed for not fighting for people if/when there are mass layoffs.

    B) Don't accept the terms, knowing that it possibly could lead to a strike followed by mass layoffs, and then be blamed if/when there are mass layoffs.

    The FA could be blamed for mass layoffs either way.

    Given that choice, I don't fault the FA for choosing B.


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