UCPEA contract renegotiations good for UConn

On Mar. 2, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy announced his opposition to the proposed University of Connecticut contract with the UConn Professional Employees Association, hoping to renegotiate terms. According to a Daily Campus report, the proposed contract would have cost UConn and the State “an additional $24.4 million over the next five years.”

The UCPEA is responsible for “1,900 non-teaching employees” and is UConn’s largest labor union. While we must ensure all employees are adequately paid and their contracts reflect appropriate cost-of-living adjustments, the budgetary situation of the state and university mandate further negotiations.

A Hartford Courant report on the UCPEA’s Mar. 8 meeting on the Storrs campus quoted a union representative as saying “Over the past 10 years, our members have received the equivalent of 1.7 percent in annual raises – a time which included several years of no raises.”

While the University must address this abysmal rate of pay increase, which trails necessary cost-of-living adjustments, the university and state must assess whether they can afford to increase pay by “3 percent in the first year and 4.5 percent in each of the following four years.” 

The University of Connecticut is facing a tremendous budgetary shortfall, as is the state. The university should seek to cut spending across the UConn system before assessing employee pay. However, given this current fiscal concern, Gov. Malloy is right to push for renegotiation to assess whether the State and University can realistically afford to increase pay by this margin for the largest union employed. 

The Daily Campus quoted House Speaker Brendan Sharkey (D-Hamden) as saying, “UConn seems to have negotiated this contract without considering the state’s overall budget challenges…” The University must find a balance between the needs and demands of employees, and the viability of the University as a state-funded educational institution. 

The university recently enacted a four-year, 31 percent hike in tuition for students. If this $24 million increase is not negotiated, there exists clear potential for a further increase in the cost of attendance. If students begin looking for less expensive options, especially for out-of-state students, budgetary concerns will only worsen. 

UConn and the UCPEA must engage in honest and tough contract negotiations. These negotiations must consider the fiscal condition of the State and university, as well as the need to keep the cost-of-attendance, as well as the quality of UConn’s gradual improvements in mind.

If a new contract severely harms the fiscal outlook of the university, then the adverse effect will eliminate the benefit provided to UCPEA employees by an improved contract.