Wednesday, July 27, 2011

"Strike Watch #1"

Most readers will have received the "Strike Watch" email from Randy Hughes already, but I'll paste it below the break for any who haven't, and this post will provide a forum for any who wish to comment on it.

The FA's basic argument, as I see it, is that the administration is refusing to work toward reaching an agreement on a number of issues the FA deems essential. Even the FA doens't expect the administration to agree with most of the FA's proposals on such issues: but it can and should expect and even demand that the administration reach some agreement on crucial points.

To some extent, to be sure, this sort of disagreement is to be expected: the administration will almost always want fewer matters addressed in a contract, the FA more. And there will be some issues where reasonable people could disagree about whether the "flexibility" lost by contractualizing something outweighs the gain in transparency and equity. But among the FA's issues are some pretty essential matters, including workload, tenure, and the administration's claim to the power to unilaterally cut salaries (via furloughs). A contract that fails to address these issues isn't a contract at all, so if the administration continues to refuse to engage in substantive bargaining about them (other than by saying that it retains the sole power to declare furloughs, to layoff faculty, etc.), the FA can't agree to it.

That's why there is a "strike watch", a neat phrase which may in fact be putting things a bit too conservatively. Unless the administration backs down from some of its major impositions in the "last, best, and final" terms imposed on us last spring, there will be a strike. The unions are making plans for a strike. I've seen a calendar with "first strike date"on it. A vote would have to authorize a strike, but I don't think there's any doubt that union members would back a strike if the administration fails to compromise--and only members can vote. If the administration thinks this is a bluff, they need to reconsider.

Strike Watch #1 
SIUC Faculty Association Edition
July 27, 2011

A "strike watch" means conditions exist which could lead to a strike by the Faculty Association and our sister unions, the Association of Civil Service Employees, the Non-Tenure Track Faculty Association, and Graduate Assistants United. The administration can solve this crisis today with a fair settlement of our contracts. Make your voice heard by joining the FA!

Our Bargaining Objectives
Bargaining on the successor agreement to the 2007-2010 Collective Bargaining Agreement has slowed to a snail's pace (see the Bargaining Update below) and it is now 392 days that faculty and other unionized employees at SIUC have worked without a new agreement. There has been no progress towards resolution on a number of critical issues. At best, the Administration gives these issues superficial consideration, and in many cases they have not given any kind of response to the options presented by the FA team.

On April 28, the Faculty Association filed a Notice of Intent to Strike. Absent a negotiated agreement, a strike is the ultimate option to counter the Administration's unilateral imposition of terms of employment and failure to negotiate in good faith. The Notice of Intent to Strike cleared the remaining legal hurdle to exercising the option of a strike.

This crisis can be averted through the negotiation of a fair settlement that addresses the following objectives:

  • Stopping the erosion of tenure and the potential for indiscriminate layoffs by insisting that layoffs be conditioned on a joint determination of a bona fide financial exigency.
  • Opposing a repeat of unilateral salary reductions by means of furloughs or unpaid leave days.
  • Workload and overload language that addresses contact hours, indirect teaching responsibilities, and new program delivery methods.
  • Proper support for Faculty who are in academic units creating and implementing distance learning programs.
  • A multi-year salary plan that attracts and retains excellent Faculty.
  • Faculty hiring levels that reflect the priority of the academic mission at SIUC.
  • Strengthening faculty governance and shared governance in program changes and departmental decision-making.
  • FA partnership with the administration expressed in the form of a reasonable fair share agreement (all faculty share the cost of union representation) that recognizes Faculty solidarity and power.
  • A ratified Agreement effective July 1, 2010.
Bargaining Update
Since the filing of the Notice of Intent to Strike in April, the Board (administration)  bargaining team has met with the FA team five times.  All discussions have concerned the successor agreement to the 2007-2010 Collective Bargaining Agreement. In May, several Tentative Agreements  were signed (Sections 4.01-4.04, 5.01, 15.04-15.06, 15.08-15.09, 16.04, 16.05, and 16.07 and Addenda A and C). These agreements leave the language of these sections unchanged from the 2007-2010 Agreement, except for Section 5.01 which now will specify that the Library Affairs Operating Paper is a college operating paper.

The teams agreed that after these tentative agreements were signed, the teams should turn their discussions to non-financial issues while the state's budget was being decided. These issues were identified as workload (including distance learning and overload), program changes, association rights, operating papers, sexual harassment procedures, leaves of absence, and policies and procedures concerning outside employment and conflict of interest.

Subsequently, the chief subject of discussions during three sessions in July was distance education, including assignment, rights and responsibilities, support, dispute resolution, compensation, and overload.  Although we share a lot of common ground, the Board team has been unwilling to commit points of agreement to written contract language.

The teams also discussed issues surrounding sexual harassment cases.  Despite our best efforts to explain our interest in contract language which will address due process and procedures to follow in sexual harassment cases, the Board team refused to consider our supposal. This supposal dates back to midterm bargaining over sexual harassment policy and procedures and has been in the Board's hands for over two years without a response.

No other bargaining sessions are scheduled for July and negotiations are not expected to resume until after the beginning of the fall semester. 


  1. Dave,

    "Even the FA doens't (sic) expect the administration to agree with most of the FA's proposals on such issues: but it can and should expect and even demand that the administration reach some agreement on crucial points."

    Aside from sounding like imposing rhetoric, what exactly does that mean? We don’t expect them to agree with our proposals but we should demand that they reach agreement with us? I don’t follow your meaning. And could not exactly the same be said from either side of a disagreement? Party X does not expect Party Y to agree to their proposals but they demand that Party Y reach agreement with them… where X and Y could interchangeably be FA or administration???

  2. A good question: I was trying to say something more substantive. The FA wants the contract to establish either set terms for something (say, such and such a percentage wage) or a set process to determine something in accord with some independent variable (say, tying faculty salaries to the SIUC budget, the FA's current salary proposal) or a set process that would allow a third party (arbitrator) or a joint committee of both sides to make adjustments (the FA's proposal for furloughs or layoff in the event of a budget crisis). So the FA is obviously open to a variety of different approaches to "getting something in the contract".

    The administration wants "flexibility", i.e., power. They don't want their hands tied by the contract. Hence they would presumably agree to some salary figure or other, but they want to retain the unilateral power to cut those salaries if they deem the budget requires it, so that salary figure won't mean much. And they want the sole power to determine whether layoffs are necessary.

    Now in some sense they would contractualize their power. But a contract that gives one side all the power isn't much of a contract--it's rather an acknowledgement that there are no contractual bounds on one side. Their language on layoffs begins as follows: If the Board considers a need for a reduction in force for Faculty members, the Board shall promptly notify the Association in writing of the proposed reduction in force. So, hooray, they agree to notify the FA; but they make the decision.

    (This matter is rather complicated, but as I'm trying to make my position clear rather than to defend it, I'll just assert that, despite certain apparently language to the contrary, the clear intent of the Board RIF language is to lay claim to unilateral power to impose layoffs.)

    Agreeing to such a contract is a bit like agreeing to a adjustable rate mortgage wherein the Bank sets the rate not according to some defined external standard by at its own discretion. Sorry, business has been tough, and we're going to need to raise your interest rate. This is the sort of contract one employs to sell the Brooklyn Bridge.

  3. I’d like to add to Dave’s comment another explanation of why this is about power and not just about the current financial situation -- and of why I tend believe the FA more than the administration.

    The administration turned down offers that should be attractive to them if their goal was to get through the financial situation.
    If the administration's main goal last year had been to get the four furlough days, they should have settled with ACSEs long ago. At least according to a letter in the DE (and never refuted by the administration), ACSEs offered the four days as one hour per week over thirty weeks and were turned down. ACSEs later offered eight half days and again were turned down. All of this was despite the administration claim in the media that they gave dollar amounts to each of the unions and were willing to take other options if the unions could come up with them.

    An agreement with the ACSEs employees would have given the administration a tactical advantage. Nearly every department would have had an ACSEs employee who questions why faculty, who make so much more money, weren't willing to pitch in.

    Actions like that are irrational if you assume that the administration’s goal was to get the four furlough days, but they are rational if you assume that the administration’s goal was to get to impasse and impose the terms they wanted or to provoke a strike.

  4. What did the ACSEs want in return?

  5. The letter in the DE didn't say. It simply said that those were the offers and that the administration response was, "No." The administration didn't respond to the letter to say what ASCEs demanded or why ASCEs was being unreasonable.

  6. Also, the letter said, "We were not given any explanation, even though the monetary outcome would be the same."

    A comment at has a link to the letter, but it broke after the DE revamped its Web site this spring. The link suggests that the letter was from the April 7 DE, if you want to try to dig it up at the library or somewhere

  7. I have no inside information (or public information not cited above) but suspect that ASCEs wanted some concessions re job security. It is also my recollection that the NTT were willing to make a similar deal. (In both cases we are dealing with hypotheticals raised in negotiations, so it is natural enough that the full details don't become public.) That's how bargaining usually works: you get something for something--even if one side may get more than the other. AFSCME made some such deal with governor Quinn (reduction in pay--i.e., lower raises--for job security), which Quinn, to his eternal shame, has now tried to renege on.

    I don't think the administration is stupid enough to be angling for a strike--or deeply, cunningly Machiavellian enough in a way I fail to understand. They just want it all: short term concessions that aren't traded for long term security but rather set the precedent for future concessions should they be necessary (furloughs & layoffs). They've likely convinced themselves that this is what the university needs (in addition to Saluki Way and other similarly bright ideas). And they think that everyone is scared enough by the state budget crisis and the enrollment decline to give them what they want--or at least to accept it when it is imposed on them, and to prefer their terms to a strike.

    I think they are wrong in their priorities and wrong in their judgement of the backbone of the unions—at least the FA, the one I know. The FA will strike if the administration doesn't compromise. It will do so even if it fears it will lose the strike. For if it loses the power to negotiate salaries (through the administration securing power to impose furloughs by fiat) and fails to protect tenure, it has no business continuing in existence. In the Machiavellian scenario this is just what the administration wants, a failed FA strike. But I think it is even less likely that the administration could "win" a strike than the FA would. And of course it is entirely possible that both sides lose.

  8. If you don't assume that they are angling for a strike, there's more than just the lack of ASCE's agreement to explain. What financial or strategic gain was made by...

    * Trying to lay off an odd assortment of NTT faculty, including some whose absence would have caused critical gaps in the university? (I can understand the layoffs as a way to put pressure on the NTT union, but I can't understand why that odd mix of people was selected.)

    * Having to be dragged into taking symbolic extra furlough days?

    * Turning down an offer for librarians to volunteer for 9-month contracts at 3/4 of their 12-month pay?

    * Setting aside money for reserve funds for the law school with minimal explanation of why that would come ahead of salaries, student retention, deferred maintenance, or a dozen other priorities?

    * Having to be dragged into saving the university money by allowing 100% grant funded faculty and staff to be exempt from the furlough days?

    A couple things could be chalked up to a new chancellor with little experience with collective bargaining, but after more than a couple, the Machiavellian explanation becomes credible.

    From "How to Play Collective Bargaining Hardball with the Union"
    "Generally speaking, implementation of a final offer will “force” a strike and strikes lead to contracts (albeit after days, weeks or months of economic distress on both sides). Moreover, the existence of an economic “give back” or concession in the implemented offer will serve the dual purpose of increasing the likelihood of a strike and reducing an employer’s labor costs while operating post-implementation."

  9. If it were just the ACSEs contract, I could chalk it up to being just part of bargaining, but it isn’t just the ACSEs contract. Over the course of the year, the administration has done many things that don’t save money or improve their bargaining position but do. If it were just a couple, I could continue to give the chancellor the benefit of the doubt for being new and inexperienced in collective bargaining. Now that it’s no longer just a couple, the parsimonious explanation is the Machiavellian explanation that her goal all along was imposition or strike.
    Here are some the inexplicable actions for saving money that are explicable if you assume that the goal is to provoke a strike:
    * Laying off an odd assortment of NTT faculty, some of whom played critical roles in the effective functioning of the university. (The layoff is explicable as a way to put pressure on the NTT union, but the choice of who was laid off is inexplicable.)
    * Having to be dragged into joining the university president in taking symbolic extra furlough days.
    * Turning down an offer for librarians to volunteer for nine-month contracts at 3/4 pay.
    * Putting money into a reserve fund for the law school with minimal explanation why a law school reserve was more important than salaries, deferred maintenance, student retention, or any of a dozen other pressing university needs.
    * Having to be dragged into exempting 100% grant funded employees from the furlough days, even though failing to exempt them would have cost the university money.

    P.S. – Blogspot ate the first version of this comment that I tried to post. If you see two very similar posts, it really is from incompetence and not some Machiavellian scheme. (-:

  10. comment has disappeared twice -- both times too quickly for me to blame Dave. I'll blame it on my writing looking like spam. :-D

    One last try:
    The ASCEs contract was just one example of the administration doing something that makes more sense from the Machiavellian perspective than from the wanting to be able to do whatever we want to balance the books perspectives.

    Here's another example. What was the point of all administrative the foot dragging regarding exempting completely grant-funded people from the furlough days?

    My previous posts had a list, but to avoid looking like spam, I'm sticking to just one example this time. As the number of pointless actions that tick people off but save no money grows, my belief that the Machiavellian framework is correct grows.

  11. Anonymous was right that his/her posts got caught in the spam filter. I've got no idea why--and blogspot (Google) won't reveal the spam filter formula, of course, as that would allow people to defeat it. Apologies.


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