Negotiations inch toward a resolution on the University’s first collective bargaining agreement, and teachers swarmed en masse to Thursday’s session as the biggest hurdle left, salaries, came to the table.
Thursday morning, new faces and old piled into the usual negotiating room in the Knight Library’s room 121 until the collective hovering and a frantic search for chairs drew the concern of the library’s facilities manager who saw people pouring out into the hallway. For what is referred to as an “all-hands on deck moment,” United Academics had sent out an email Saturday afternoon to rally faculty for the Thursday session. What transpired, and allegedly perspired, was a jammed room that briefly stalled negotiations, with teachers sitting on the floor and practically on top of each other.
“There was no kicking out or anything like that, it was just caring for the safety of them,” said Susan Scroggins, the worker who booked the larger replacement room, noting that the bargainers and faculty reps would have been miserable stewing together so closely, with some members even resorting to sitting on the floor. “I don’t know how they expected to make it to 4 [p.m.].”
An upgrade to a larger room across the hall allowed a return the negotiating, but the faculty had hoped that their message was obvious.
“The turnout was fantastic,” said David Cecil, the union’s lead negotiation. “There’s just a lot of faculty that aren’t happy with the university’s salary proposal and we said ‘if you want to show them that, come to bargaining, because that’s when they’ll see that.’”
The University side of the table, who usually just employ two administrative members are Sharon Rudnick, a counselor from the law firm Harrang Gary Long Rudnick, insist that they weren’t rattled by the turnout.
“The process is open so anybody can come,” Rudnick told the Emerald in a phone interview. “We tend to see more observers when we’re talking about economics. And it doesn’t particularly effect what was going on the table anyway.”
“… the University must meet its obligation to live within its means.”
After a month-long break from negotiations, the marquee topic for the day was salaries. Coming into Thursday’s session, the administration offered tenure and tenure-track faculty a 10.3 percent salary bump over three-year contracts. Meanwhile, non-tenure track faculty, in other words faculty who mostly don’t conduct research and currently make up 63 percent of UO faculty, will receive an 11.4 percent increase over the same period.
It’s an issue with several different branches, such as raises and salary floors. The faculty is seeking salary increases because the University of Oregon, compared with its peers in the AAU, is relatively underpaid. And as both sides look to wrap up this agreement before fall term starts, United Academics has decided to shift its focus primarily on salary negotiations heading into the home stretch.
“There’s been too many times when we’ve heard ‘that’s a goal we’re going to work to’ but we now have to capture it,” Cecil said. “We can’t let it go. Today we moved on a lot of economic things that were not salary to indicate to the university that we’re focused in on what’s most important, of the issues left, and that’s salaries.”
University administrators maintain that, in the face of dwindling state support, their proposals will reflect the University’s divided general fund that also must account for things like student aid, non-teaching staff members and simply keeping the lights on at the University. University bargainers insist that their proposals have been reasonable, and some conciliation in the union’s proposal yesterday will help.
“The people on my side of the table have to make fiscally responsible decisions in order to make sure that all the University’s needs can be met in a responsible way,” Rudnick said. “The economic proposals they gave us yesterday made significant movement from where they had been in part a response because they understand to get faculty salaries where they need to be is going to take a few steps.”
Still, Cecil feels that United Academics is extending an invitation to the administration to also make some movements from their earlier proposals so that both sides can meet somewhere in the middle.
“I keep using the analogy that there’s a chasm,” Cecil said. “We just took a giant step into it, and they need to take a giant step into it, too.”