AAUP contract negotiations shrouded in uncertainty

Diana Rios, AAUP at UConn president and an associate professor of communications, speaks at an AAUP rally in the UConn Student Union in Storrs, Connecticut on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016. (Jackson Haigis/The Daily Campus)

The University of Connecticut’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the university itself may not be able to hammer out a contract before the Connecticut General Assembly’s (CGA) adjournment on May 4.

“The general idea is to have it in their (the CGA’s) hands for 30 days,” Thomas Peters, a member of UConn’s AAUP running for their vice presidential position next year, said. “You don’t want to do it at the end of the session because they have a lot of stuff to clean up.

We’re already past that window. We have enough issues on the table that we’ve been working on for months that if you only have five sessions left, there may be a big breakthrough, but it’s not by any means guaranteed. We could be in the position of not having a contract agreed to internally to go to the legislature by the time they adjourn. And that’s a whole new ballgame.”

Peters called the AAUP operating without a contract “unprecedented.” Essentially, the almost 10-year-old contract would remain in effect, with no raises administered.

According to UConn’s Provost website, the university and the AAUP have generated 10 tentative agreements thus far. Remaining are nearly thirty topics of discussion, many of which have proposals and counterproposals to consider. These include some of the biggest issues on the table, such as academic freedom, salary and benefits, faculty governance and student evaluations of teaching.

UConn spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said that the university could not comment on ongoing negotiations.

“It’s most appropriate to negotiate at the bargaining table, not in the media,” Reitz said. “The AAUP contract covers about 1,700 faculty at Storrs and the regional campuses. This is one of the largest contracts we have as an institution and there is great complexity to it, since it has a direct effect on our ability to carry out our education, teaching and research mission.”

The current contract accounts for an annual cost of almost $276 million annually, according to Reitz.

A significant reason why these contract negotiations have been so dense and difficult to finalize is because there hasn’t been a truly new contract in a decade, when the base for the existing contract was finalized (2006-07). The contract being negotiated will be in the range of three to five years.

Updated in 2010-11, the present contract has been “held together by a lot of goodwill and shared understanding,” Peters said. Since 2006, though, “the university has become bigger and significantly more structured, and some of that (goodwill and shared understanding) has eroded.”

Peters says this is because of an influx of new employees and faculty to the university since 2006, which affected a shared knowledge. New players has led to an “ignorance” and a need to redo, explain and qualify, especially to the outside lawyer the university has brought in for the negotiation process.

“That’s the first time this has ever happened with us (bringing in an outside attorney). So that’s a significant difference (from 2006), and in my view, I don’t think it’s improved things,” Peters said. “It was more collaborative before, there was more discussion. There’s a lot of paper-passing now.”

Additionally, in 2006, non-economic issues were dealt with while the parties waited for UConn’s Operations and Information Management (OPIM) office to decide upon affordability. The OPIM came back with the findings that a five percent raise across the board was feasible. During these ongoing negotiations, the OPIM has been silent.

The private, outside attorneys hired by the university are John Peirano and David Alberts, who are from the renowned New Jersey law firm McElroy, Duetsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter.

Michael Bailey, the Executive Director of UConn’s AAUP and its chief negotiator, pointed to the UConn Professional Employees Association (UCPEA) and its struggle to pass its approved contract, negotiated in good faith with the university, through the legislature, as a sticking point in the AAUP’s negotiations.

“The Governor has just announced that he urges the legislature to reject the UCPEA agreement,” Bailey said. “This would signal to me that the legislature will be voting on all of the 33 other bargaining unit contracts…the April 4 deadline to get agreements to the legislature for the 30 day window is unnecessary.”

In the past, collective bargaining agreements have sat on the docket for 30 days without any action, which ends in their approval, according to Bailey. Due to Connecticut’s standing budget status, though, this is no longer the case.

“I think it is fair to say that both parties would like to reach an agreement in a timely fashion,” Bailey said. “Unfortunately, the legislature has decided to insert itself into the collective bargaining process and put outside pressures on negotiating wages.”

Thus far, a mediator has been used twice, according to Peters. Mediators here from both sides then try to assist in coming to a compromise. These negotiations may come down to an arbitrator, though. The difference between a mediator and an arbitrator is the mediator can pick and choose what to give up or keep. The arbitrator’s only job is to hear the best offers from both sides and make a recommendation, which both parties are legally bound to follow.

What intangible factors have led to a long negotiating process? Peters does not think trust has broken down, although goodwill may be on the verge of doing so.

“I think it’s more shared understanding that leads to more rapid communication and a more collegial atmosphere,” Peters said. “(In 2006) We could talk very easily about something like shared governance, or tenure, or student evaluation of teaching. Everyone knew what they meant.”

This time around, discussion spent an “inordinate” amount of time explaining student evaluations of teaching to the outside lawyers, who needed to be educated.

“I think that they (the university) see now they want things to be more centralized; streamlined,” Peters said. “That’s good in a corporation, I’m not sure that’s good in a university. I’ve seen both and I think at a university you just have to pay the price.”


Sten Spinella is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email atsten.spinella@uconn.edu.