AAUP, university arrive at tentative agreement

Bethany Jones

After 13 months of failed negotiations, faculty and administration reached a tentative collective bargaining agreement over a three-day period and 12 hours of discussions.

“There was a sincere desire on both sides to reach an agreement,” Associate Provost Gayle Ormiston said. “Each side made some concessions that were important.”

Discussions focused around trying to reach a settlement, he said.

Both sides were motivated to reach a settlement, said Lee Fox-Cardamone, chief negotiator for the American Association of University Professors Kent State University chapter, the union that represents faculty.

“Enough time had passed that it was time to bring it to an end,” she said. “Sometimes people are just ready to see it all come to a conclusion.”

Cardamone said that lawyers for both sides did most of the negotiating, but both teams were in the background driving details.

A meeting is scheduled tomorrow for the AAUP Council to discuss the tentative contract. The council has faculty representation from all departments. A general membership meeting will also take place later this week.

AAUP members will begin to vote on the collective bargaining agreement within the next few days. If passed, the Board of Trustees must vote. Cheryl Casper, professor of economics and president of the AAUP-KSU chapter, said she anticipates members will accept the tentative contract.

There is no date set for collective bargaining ballots to be sent out or returned, Casper said. They will probably be due back in about 10 days, she said.

Strike authorization ballots were due back today, but any that have been received will be discarded, Casper said.

“It was critical to settle now in order to avert a strike,” she said.

Jyotsna Neuman, the former chief negotiator for the AAUP-KSU chapter bargaining committee, said that she thinks the turning point for negotiations was the overwhelming rejection vote given by members for the previous tentative contract.

The union voted 312-32 against the tentative agreement on July 6.

“The message was loud and clear with that vote,” she said. “That started the trend.”

Provisions of the collective bargaining agreement include a 3 percent salary increase for 2005-06, 3 percent for 2006-07 and 3 percent for 2007-08 school years. In addition, it calls for an adjustment in the base salary of 2 percent for 2004-2005 that will be paid in a lump sum, Casper said.

The “cost pass-through provision” that faculty considered to be the biggest issue in the health care plan has been eliminated. It would have required faculty to pay half of any premium increase above 10 percent, Casper said.

“We are delighted that it’s been removed,” Casper said. “I think they reassessed the cost pass through provision and realized that people perceived it as shifting too much of the cost on employees.”

The new contract proposes monthly contributions requiring faculty members to pay more of the health care costs.

All faculty members will now pay premiums. Under the current plan, 54 percent of faculty do not pay premiums. The new contract allows faculty to choose among three plans in which they would pay 6 to 10 percent of the total premium paid by the university.

The tentative agreement is progressive, which means faculty members who earn a higher income will pay a higher percentage of premiums than lower income faculty.

The union will poll all faculty — union and non-union — during the fall semester about a representation fee for non-union members. Everyone in the bargaining unit is eligible to vote on it and it would require a majority vote to pass, Casper said.

The representation fee would be slightly less than the dues that members pay, she said.

“If it were to pass, faculty would have the option of joining the union,” said Casper. “It is too soon to tell if dues would be lowered.”

AAUP union members currently pay 0.8 percent of their income in dues, Casper said. She said that most universities that have faculty representation have something comparable to what is being asked.

The university called for four-year coverage in the tentative contract, which Casper said surprised her because previous contracts had only been for three years.

Ormiston said the extension allows both sides to take a break from bargaining. It also allows the administration to look at the financial issues of the new health care plans. It takes time to understand exactly how it will work, Ormiston said.

Casper said that the executive committee of the AAUP would make a recommendation to the membership.

“I would be very surprised if there wasn’t support from that body,” she said.

Casper said she would like to see the AAUP Action Committee keep working after a settlement is reached.

“There are always unresolved projects that can be worked on, particularly domestic partner benefits,” Casper said. “We were disappointed last year when the university stopped those benefits.”

She said one idea is to put together a committee to look specifically into benefits for gay and lesbian faculty. Kent State will lose good faculty because of the lack of these benefits, she said.

However, an amendment added to the Ohio constitution in 2004 limits what institutions can do with domestic partner benefits, Ormiston said.

David Creamer, vice president of administration, said that some of the money that will pay the salary increase was put into the July 1 budget.

“It is probably going to largely come from tuition increases,” he said.

Creamer said that they are hopeful that modest increases in state funding will also go toward the salary increase.

However, Casper had previously said increases in salary would not significantly affect tuition increases.

Ormiston said that he feels everyone involved with the negotiation process probably learned a lot.

“You can’t negotiate for 14 plus months and not have learned about the process and the interest of the parties involved,” he said.

Casper said that she learned working with other bargaining units makes a big difference. The non-tenure-track faculty and, American Federation of State, Municipal and County Employees, were very supportive, she said.

Casper said that it is still hard to believe that this process may be coming to an end. She said she looks forward to focusing on her classes and getting back to her research.

“I am very happy we’ve reached a settlement. I think it’s a good agreement for the faculty,” she said. “It’s still sinking in.”

Contact academic affairs reporter Bethany Jones at [email protected].