Professors’ union considers strike vote, picketing

Carrie Blazina

Kent State’s branch of the American Association of University Professors sent an email to members Monday saying if significant progress is not made soon in the ongoing negotiations with the university, it could ask members to authorize a strike vote.

“[Emergency measures taken] may include, but are not limited to, asking the Faculty to participate in informational picketing, asking the AAUP Council to give the go-ahead for a strike authorization vote from the Faculty, and/or asking for mediation assistance from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service,” the email says.

It is the AAUP’s and the university’s policy not to comment on ongoing negotiations, and tenure-track president Kara Robinson said in an email she could not provide any clarification of issues. The university did not respond to a clarification request.

The email says while all issues are now “on the table,” the two sides are far apart on some of them. The AAUP says the university is being uncooperative and has not communicated its positions well.

“One of the major difficulties in these negotiations has been the administration’s reluctance or inability to explain the specific reasons for their positions on some of the issues,” the email says, “other than to say that this is how they want them to be.”

The email goes on to describe the remaining issues that need to be worked out.

-Salaries: The AAUP’s email says the administration has proposed 2 percent salary increases across the board for the current year and the next two years.

There will not, however, be any merit increases under this proposal, though the 2008 collective bargaining agreement does include a system for merit raises of 1.5 percent per academic year.

The email also says unless an agreement is reached on this issue by Saturday, there will be no retroactive raises for members.

It is unclear whether the deadline was set by the university or the AAUP, and the consequences of missing the deadline are unclear.

-Medical benefits: Unless an agreement is, again, reached by Saturday, the university is proposing increases in health care contributions of 15 percent for 2012, 16 percent in 2013 and 17 percent in 2014.

The previous email update, from March 1, said the university had initially proposed 15, 17 and 19 percent increases for those respective years. That email said the net increase would be unfair to employees.

“We believe that such a large cost shift onto the employees is unnecessary and, in particular, would have a disproportionate impact on the University’s lower paid employees,” the email said.

This year, faculty members at the median university salary level pay 14 percent of the premium for the best coverage plan.

-Governance: The university is proposing a university-wide Faculty Handbook, which would include sections for each college, school and department.

The college’s section would include “only those items unique to the College which concern the terms and conditions of employment of Faculty members in the College (e.g., the College’s governance structure).”

The schools’ and departments’ sections would include:

  • reappointment, tenure and promotion criteria unique to the department or school and consistent with university policy
  • criteria for faculty excellence awards
  • governance and committee structure, election procedures
  • workload equivalencies consistent with university policy and college practices

The AAUP says this restructuring is a problem.

“All other topics formerly in the handbooks would go into unit guidelines that would not be enforceable through the grievance process,” the email says.

It also says the university is asking for handbooks older than three and a half years to be resubmitted for approval because “the Dean did not respond to the proposed handbook changes within 4 1/2 months since initial submission or 3 months since a revised submission.”

-Paid parental leave: The AAUP said in its July proposal on paid parental leave, which is available through its website, the purpose of this leave is “to provide a birth mother, father, domestic partner, or adoptive parent with paid time off to recover from childbirth and/or to care for and bond with a newborn or newly-adopted child.”

The proposal would have provided six weeks’ full pay to those professors, with the opportunity to use the professors’ other nine weeks of sick leave in this manner. The proposal would have provided a total of 15 weeks’ parental leave that way, but the university rejected the proposal.

The leave policy would have been in place for the first time. The AAUP says it is frustrated with the rejection.

“This is highly disappointing for many reasons, not the least of which is that the administration has publicly blamed AAUP-KSU in the past for the fact that KSU does not have a paid parental leave policy,” the AAUP said in an email.

A final issue is whether professors should be required to teach distance learning courses. Although the university says they should be, AAUP says they have a right to refuse to teach them.

According to the AAUP website, the association acts as a union for its members and negotiates between professors and Kent State at times like this when professors need a new contract with the university. The current contract expired in August.

AAUP has a tenure-track/tenured branch and a full-time-non-tenure-track branch and represents professors at Kent State’s main and regional campuses.

Contact Carrie Blazina at [email protected].