Oregon Tech on Thursday resumed mediated negotiation talks for its first union contract agreement, addressing healthcare premiums, workload and compensation. But with no agreement in sight, the university administration said optimism is low for both parties to reach a resolution by March 11.
The administration on Thursday provided unionized faculty with a package proposal for healthcare premiums and workloads, according to Ken Fincher, vice president of Institutional Advancement at Oregon Tech.
“Both parties want to be complete by (March) 11th, we’re just not optimistic that we’re going to be able to do that because we haven’t seen proposals or counter proposals coming back from the faculty union,” Fincher said.
The Oregon Tech branch of American Association of University Professors executive committee has said they have reached a few resolutions, such as leave of absence, grievances, and arbitration, but the union remains far apart from administration on benefits, compensation and working conditions.
That distance was clear on Friday in communications from the two groups about Thursday’s talks.
The administration didn’t mince words in a negotiation summary, stating they believed faculty to have been “grossly inaccurate or disingenuous” in explaining Oregon Tech’s most recent proposal on workload to bargaining unit members.
The university said a chart of workload hours union leadership shared with union members is inaccurate.
“Our position is that chart was incorrect,” Fincher said. “It did not state what was the status quo that both parties agreed to in 2018-2019.”
The current status quo has remained in effect since 2018-19 and includes both instructional and non-instructional load for all bargaining unit faculty, according to a summary issued by the administration.
Faculty fired back at the claims made in the administration’s summary in a letter signed by the OT-AAUP executive committee on Friday afternoon.
“Their willingness to call faculty names is troubling, if not surprising,” the letter states. “But please — don’t be taken in by their claims that they are maintaining the ‘status quo’ with their workload or health care proposals. It simply is not true.”
Sean St. Clair, president of the OT-AAUT executive committee, said that the administration’s claims of incorrect information stem from misquoting current workload policies.
The union response also called into question the administration’s healthcare proposal as an attempt to “hold hostage basic employee rights by making these rights contingent on bargaining proposals that would negatively impact us as faculty and employees.”
“Admin’s proposals are not the status quo — they are simply trying to define as ‘status quo’ the very sudden and disruptive unilateral administrative decisions that mobilized us to unionize in the first place,” the executive committee letter states.
The letter details that last winter, senior administration officials allegedly withheld policy-mandated cost of living increases from faculty, because members would not agree to give up rights to bargain over COLAs or any other salary increases in 2020.
Fincher said the university offered a 2% increase in pay in 2020 as well as a promise to keep faculty members from being furloughed during the pandemic.
“The university really did yeoman’s work to provide for the faculty and to allow for them to maintain instruction within their discipline,” Fincher said.
Essentially, the executive committee is concerned the administration could reduce the value of their health coverage.
The OT-AAUP Executive Committee also presented a petition on Thursday signed by 132 faculty members, 80% of the unionized faculty, asking that the provost and Oregon Tech President Nagi Naganathan make sure that promotion and tenure are included in the union contract.
“We look forward to a substantive response from the senior administration about this request, because it was such an overwhelming majority of faculty,” Lundgren said.
Promotion and tenure are two things that have traditionally been collaboratively determined by faculty and Oregon Tech administration, Lundgren said. Lundgren said the university administration is saying they want policies to be entirely at the discretion of the employer.
“The reason we unionized is that our faculty senate policies were starting to be ignored,” Lundgren said. “Since they’re just policies and not part of the bargaining agreement, they’re not legally binding and so that was a big problem for us ... it’s not that we’re trying to be in charge of everything, it’s just that we want faculty voices to be part of the decisions that affect faculty lives. We are contesting where management rights begins and ends,.”
Lundgren said that a meeting scheduled for Feb. 25 will be focused on economic issues that remain unresolved, and that negotiations may come to a head next week.
“I think it’s going to be a very telling day,” Lundgren said. “I think we’ll know a lot more about what direction things can go after next Thursday’s session. I know in the past we’ve had ‘last days of bargaining’ and what not, there’s really no last day of bargaining in a sense because we have to keep bargaining, even if we’re on strike, because otherwise we would never come to any kind resolution.”
“We will have everything on the table by next week,” she added.
In between the listed negotiation dates, Fincher said teams meet separately to prepare for the mediated sessions.
“A lot of work takes place between those established meetings individually with each group,” Fincher said.
Fincher said the administration hopes faculty will see the healthcare and workload proposal as an excellent offer.