Sessions 32 & 33: Good news/Bad news. Conceptual agreement on Individual Professional Development Accounts! But still playing budgetary games…

We met for two days of back-to-back bargaining.  On Thursday, we had a frustrating session arguing about some of the economic data that’s been presented.  But on Friday, we made some serious progress on two of our remaining outstanding issues—professional development and sabbatical.

Bad news first.  Howard Bunsis, chair of the national AAUP Collective Bargaining Congress, joined us at the table on Thursday morning in a room packed with our members.  He presented an analysis of PSU’s financial health that was developed largely in response to the information Kevin Reynolds presented to the Finance and Administration subcommittee of the Board of Trustees.  Reynolds asserted that PSU will face a dire crisis when PERS rates rise that could result in lay-offs.  He also claimed that PSU faculty and AP salaries are competitive with our peers.  Howard Bunsis, an accounting professor whose specializes in public pensions, soundly refuted that forecast.  Using audited financial reports, he showed that there has been a steady decline in the amount of money going into instruction, while institutional support (upper administration) has grown over the same time period.  Bunsis’ data definitively made the case that PSU faculty lag far behind our peers in terms of salary.  When cost of living is taken into account, our salaries fall even farther behind.  Finally, the Bunsis presentation showed that the PERS increases won’t result in the doom and gloom budgetary picture that’s being painted.  He questioned why PSU routinely predicts doomsday budget scenarios and large deficits that never come to fruition.

The administrative team’s response to the Bunsis presentation was stoic.  They did not ask questions or engage him in any debate or dialogue.  Later in the day, they claimed that Howard’s work was full of flaws, but would not articulate a single example of how his calculations, data or sources were misguided.   In the meantime, we heard a presentation from HR that explained how the administration came-up with their conclusion that our salaries are on par with our peers.   Their methodology relied upon a peer set that has not been used before and contained institutions clustered in very low-cost of living states like Alabama, Texas and Louisiana.  They compared PSU salaries to salaries in the CUPA-HR data based that were reported two years earlier then “aged.”  These “aged” salaries didn’t even match the data that was eventually reported to CUPA for the comparison year, and the CUPA data didn’t match the more robust, federally mandated data that exists in the IPEDS database.  This sparked an hours-long debate between our teams about who PSU’s comparators are.  We advocated for using the OUS comparator set we’ve always relied upon that was methodologically derived, not cherry-picked.

That was Thursday.  We went into Friday’s session feeling like we’d never get anything accomplished.  After experiencing some tension in the morning when the administration scrapped work that had been done in a subcommittee regarding AP transfer policies, we decided to focus on professional development.  We’ve been very direct and up front with the administration about the changes that we want to see in terms of professional development, so we asked to go directly to the options phase of interest-based bargaining.  We presented the problems that our members have trying to access professional development money.  There is currently not enough money allocated to the travel fund to meet demand, and one has to basically win a lottery to fund a conference trip.

The administration shared our belief that professional development money should be available and accessible to all.  We reached a conceptual agreement to create individual professional development accounts for all AAUP members.  This money can be spent on things like conference travel and registration, professional organization dues or licensing fees, books, equipment or supplies, software, training expenses, tuition or fees and so on.  Funds will be allowed to roll over for three years.  After three years, unused funds will go to the Dean’s office to be spent on additional professional development activities.  The individual accounts will replace the Faculty Senate administered travel fund, but the Faculty Enhancement Grant program will remain intact.  The individual accounts will be tiered, with a higher allocation going to tenure-related faculty and a smaller amount awarded to NTTF and APs, but all members will have an account.  We will determine how much the annual stipend will be during economics bargaining.

We then discussed sabbatical.  We recounted how upset our members were when President Wiewel was offered a sabbatical at 100% pay in the third year of his new contract.  PSU faculty sabbatical pay rates are 85% for one term, 75% for two and 60% for three.  Many faculty take less time than they need to complete their projects, because they can’t afford to live on 60% of their noncompetitive pay.  We also raised some policy issues around split academic year sabbaticals that surfaced recently.  We will figure out the best way to address the policy issues in our next session, but the administration agreed to raise the pay percentages for two and three term sabbaticals.  Like professional development, we will determine the percentage increases during economics bargaining on March 10th.

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Can PSU Afford to Give Us a Raise?

According to the administrative presentation made to the Board of Trustee’s finance subcommittee, enrollment will remain flat, benefit costs will rise so sharply that the university will have to make lay-offs in 2018, and our salaries are competitive with our peers.

This curiously timed presentation coincides with upcoming board votes to raise tuition and collective bargaining over compensation with our union and the part-time faculty union.  However, not everyone who examines the PSU financial statements agrees with the administration’s analysis.

Howard Bunsis, accounting professor and chair of the AAUP Collective Bargaining Congress, will present his analysis of PSU’s financial health in our Thursday, February 25th bargaining session.  Join us on Thursday at 9:00 AM in SMSU 294 to find out what PSU can really afford.

Session 30: Conceptual Agreement reached on AP Workload and Terms of Empolyment

In our Friday, February 19th bargaining session, we reached a tentative agreement on AP Workload and Terms of Employment issues.  Those of you who have been closely following this negotiation know that we’ve spent hours going back and forth with the administrative team about what full-time employment means for academic professionals.  The tentative agreement includes new contract language that defines and AP workload as approximately 2080 hours/year (basically, a 40 hour work week).  It clarifies academic professionals’ right to flex their work schedules.  APs are not expected to keep hour-by-hour records of their work and when some weeks require additional hours or heavier workloads, supervisors must allow for a reduction in subsequent work or hours within a reasonable time frame.

Academic professionals should not be assigned an “unreasonable or excessive workload.”  APs who believe they have a workload that exceeds what a reasonable person can achieve within a 2080 hour annual standard will first work with their supervisor to adjust their workload.  If the AP and supervisor cannot come to a mutually agreeable workload reduction plan, representatives from AAUP and administration will negotiate a solution.  If a solution cannot be reached, the AP has the right to take the matter to arbitration.  An arbitrator will determine if the workload is unreasonable.  If it is, PSU will be issued a cease and desist order.   If multiple workload issues arise in a single unit, this will trigger a broader discussion in a regularly scheduled labor/management meeting.

The current contract states that APs can be let go with notice if their position is eliminated.  In the past, the administration has interpreted this section to mean that any AP can be let go, with or without cause, by simply issuing the required notice.  AAUP has always believed that the word positon means a job must be eliminated.  This disagreement has resulted in numerous grievances, none of which ever resolved the larger conflict.  The tentative agreement now specifies exactly what the term position means and when an AP can be laid-off.  Academic professionals can be let go with notice if they receive sanctions that warrant termination, if retrenchment occurs, of if a position is eliminated due to programmatic change.  If a programmatic change results in lay-offs, APs will be let-go in order of seniority.  Laid-off academic professionals will have recall rights if a similar job is posted.  This provision is designed to prevent departments and units from eliminating a job to get rid of a person then re-posting the same job with a slightly different description or title.

As part of the terms of employment package, the administration introduced a probationary period for academic professionals hired after July 1, 2016.  Newly hired APs can be let go in the first six months of employment without having to go through the terms stated above.  If multiple probationary employees are laid-off in a unit, the labor/management committee will meet to discuss and remedy the problem.

Academic professionals will no longer have to use vacation days if the university is closed for inclement weather or during breaks.  Unfortunately, this agreement will not cover the snow day we had in January, but if we get another snowstorm, it won’t be considered a “vacation.”

When we negotiate our economics package on March 10th, we will have an opportunity to possibly extend the frequency of AP longevity bumps and/or revisit the brackets we originally agreed to.

Session 29: Finding the balance on AP Issues

By Leanne Serbulo, VP for Collective Bargaining

Balance.  It’s a delicate, yet crucial part of bargaining.  In a bargaining unit like ours that is made-up of diverse constituencies, we strive to find balance in the gains we make for each group.  We’ve spent that past dozen sessions focused on academic professional issues.  So far, we’ve addressed pay and promotional and workload issues.  Now, there are just a few issues left on the table.

We were able to gain longevity adjustments for APs for up to two years and a classification and compensation study that will, hopefully, result in real pathways for promotion as well as opportunities to advance and grow within a job title.  We got important workload language that states that APs workload should not exceed 2080 hours/year (40 hours per week), and that no AP should have an unreasonable or excessive workload.  We are crafting a process for dealing with excessive workloads that we hope will be successful.  However, administration wanted to put this language in a letter of agreement that would sunset in two years and have to be renegotiated.

In our last session, the administration floated a package proposal that introduced a 6 month probationary period for newly hired academic professionals.  It also clarified the terms of employment for APs.  We have different interpretations of our current contract language about the terms of employment, which has resulted in a number of grievances.  The new terms of employment language proposed would resolve our conflicts and enhance AP job security. 

While the introduction of a probationary period is a reasonable ask, what concerned us as a team was that the probationary period would be a permanent change, while many of the other gains we’ve made would be temporary.  The longevity adjustments will only occur over the next two years, and APs will have to wait for promotional pathways to be established and for a meaningful system of advancement within their job titles.  We don’t know what the class and comp study will result in, and we’ll have to bargain about the proposed changes.

Our team felt that the changes administration is seeking for terms of employment are permanent, while the other gains we made are temporary, and that doesn’t feel balanced.   After a lot of caucus time brainstorming and some back and forth, administration is willing to make the workload language a permanent part of the contract.  While this is a gain, we still don’t feel like we’ve achieved the balance we’re seeking. We are getting close and will continue to negotiate these issues in our next session.

Session 28: Ironing Out AP Issues

By Leanne Serbulo, VP for Collective Bargaining

We had a number of outstanding AP issues (workload, scheduling, weather closures and terms of employment) left to discuss, but we had already generated possible solutions to many of these issues in previous sessions. We started the day off by looking at the options that were currently on the table. After we went over these options, we went into a caucus to consider them.

During caucus, administration prepared a package option that our facilitator presented to us. We spent the remainder of the session working off this option, but we remained in separate caucuses. Towards the end of the session, we met back together at the table, even though both sides had lost a few members to meetings, class and other job duties.

Our discussion at the table was very productive. We spoke frankly to each other about the interests and rationales behind the proposal and about our reluctance to accept this proposal. This conversation should help guide us as each team spends the next week refining our options and hopefully moving towards a mutually, agreeable solution.

Both of our teams are committed to trying to finish the contract by the end of February. We set a goal to complete bargaining around AP issues before noon during next week’s session. We will then address professional development, sabbatical and move into the economics phase of bargaining. We meet again next week on Friday, February 12th from 9-4 in Urban 710. As always, we welcome and encourage our members to come and observe.