It might be the most important debate on campus right now and most students have never heard about it. Almost every professor, adjunct, research assistant and emeritus have joined the United Academics faculty union and now they are all bargaining with the University administration for a new employment contract. The shape of this first contract could dramatically change the most basic operations at the UO.
So far, some faculty are frustrated with the pace of negotiations.
“My sense is there’s a lot of stalling going on right now,” said David Luebke, UO professor of history. Luebke has been involved with the union since before its inception and is a member of the organizing committee. “There’s a lot of things that are being made difficult when they should be easy.”
“The administration is pushing for an advantage, which is what we expected,” UO senior instructor Randy Sullivan said. Sullivan is well-known to students as a lecture demonstrator in science classes. “They seem to want to put into the contract provisions that do not embody current working conditions.”
Unprompted, Luebke and Sullivan both said grievances were the biggest issues in negotiations at the moment. A grievance under the contract is when someone in the union alleges there has been a violation, misinterpretation or improper application of the terms of the union agreement and can bring it to the union for further action.
“Every collective bargaining agreement has a process to grievance,” Luebke said. “It’s like, ‘would you like bread with your sandwich?’”
The clash over grievances has been mostly over what issues count as grievances under the contract, with the University administration saying it should not apply to “complaints related to matters of academic judgment” or “matters reserved to the University.”
“Those are language loopholes big enough to drive a semi-truck through,” Sullivan said. “Academic issues are working conditions for faculty.”
When asked why faculty unionized in the first place, Luebke said carefully, “Because decisions (about academics) are made that often don’t involve the input of the faculty. Now the University is obligated to negotiate with the union over terms of employment. They can’t not negotiate. That’s very empowering.”
“I think what precipitated the formation of the union,” Sullivan said, “was that faculty and administrators were deadlocked over a lot of issues. Now we can revisit a lot of those matters and some will be resolved in favor of the faculty, some for the administration, but everything will be resolved in favor of students, I hope.”
Though the faculty have unionized, UO students don’t need to worry about a strike. The proposals from the union completely rule it out. However, faculty bargaining team members are pushing to avoid being obligated to perform labor that would usually be performed by employees of the University who may be on strike, such as the Graduate Teaching Fellows who unionized in 1977.
An example given at the bargaining table was printing out papers. The administration asked, if the teaching assistant is out on strike, would faculty print up papers for students? No, the bargaining team responded.
This appears not so much an attempt by faculty to avoid work outside their contract, but a show of solidarity with other unions on campus. If the GTFs were on strike then the administration couldn’t rely on faculty to pick up the slack. This would give the GTFs more bargaining power and prevent the University administration from relying on faculty until the strike ends.
“I have no doubt that everybody at that bargaining table has only the best intentions for the University and students in general,” Sullivan said.