Summer 2015 Bargaining Diary

Oakland University Faculty Facebook Groups:

July 17, 2015

On July 17, Oakland gave us a review of the settlement package we presented on June 1:

With respect to Right to Work changes, they remain convinced that the changes we requested, drafted by our attorney, are not in compliance, and prefer their language which seems to our attorney to needlessly extend the provisions of the new laws to restrict membership and financial support of the OU-AAUP chapter.

Changing the name of the misnamed "medical savings accounts" to a more correct "flexible spending account" seems straightforward enough, and is reflected in Oakland's insurance proposal, see below.

Faculty wishing to transition to phased retirement are forced to negotiate nearly all of the insurances and benefits they enjoy as full-time faculty. Oakland indicated that this issue may be able to be worked out, but offered no details or specifics.

Oakland was not willing to offer a solution to our issues with long-term disability insurance, such as the unfortunate situation where faculty members are found by their doctors and Oakland's doctors to be unable to work, yet are denied long-term disability benefits because the insurance provider's doctors disagree. This occurrence is deemed by Oakland to be a rare issue between the faculty member and the insurance provider.

Our request to clarify and add criteria to 76b is viewed as intimately linked to Oakland's desire to have a merit-only raise system, and they intend to discuss the two issues together.

Special lecturer issues:

The long-standing language of the tuition waiver benefit states: "For each such enrollment in a given section, the maximum enrollment for that section shall be increased by one, except where equipment limitations prohibit such adjustment." This carefully worded sentence insures that faculty, their spouses and dependent do not take the place of a student paying full tuition, and thus the burden to Oakland is only the administrative costs associated with registration. We learned today that Oakland does not track the enrollment of faculty, their spouses or dependents, and they do not adjust course enrollment caps as directed in the Agreement. We were told that Banner cannot accommodate this type of data, and therefore Oakland considers faculty, their spouses and dependents as taking the place of full-tuition students.

There was no mention of other economic issues, nor of the notion of establishing joint Oakland/faculty task forces to discuss campus-wide issues and recommend policies to the Board of Trustees.

On a potentially positive note, there was a spirited discussion of a possible structure and procedure to provide regular market salary adjustments.

Your team was presented with Oakland's opening proposal concerning insurances. Oakland wants to double the faculty's portion of premiums from 5% to 10%, and they want to eliminate the Oakland match to faculty flexible savings accounts. Oakland is also seeking unilateral authority to add or change medical, dental and vision policies, providers and plans at will, as long as the benefits of new plans are "similar" to what is described in the Agreement.

A portion of the Affordable Care Act defines a "Cadillac" health insurance plan as one with monthly premiums that exceed some pre-defined dollar amount. Beginning in 2018, the ACA requires an excise tax (40% of the premium cost over the pre-determined amount) to be paid by the insurance issuer. This tax is a major source of revenue for the ACA, and is under attack by both Democrats and Republicans alike. Its final form is unlikely to be settled until after the 2016 elections. However, because of the possibility of an additional cost that may or may not kick in more than two years from now, Oakland has proposed doing away with both the Standard BC/BS plan and the Community Blue PPO-A in 2016.

We have been told that in late May, HAP sent a letter to Oakland informing them that they will no longer be providing insurance to OU. HAP's share of Oakland's business has dropped below 25%, and HAP has either made the decision or been forced to (it is not entirely clear at this time) remove themselves as an Oakland insurance provider. There is no indication that Oakland or its insurance consultant is working with HAP to rectify this situation. Your team has been talking to the HAP labor liaison and he indicates that HAP is very much interested in continuing at OU, but of course we are not authorized to negotiate contracts or to speak on Oakland's behalf. Your team continues to talk with representatives from HAP and is trying to keep the lines of communication open with Oakland. At this point in time, we are not sure how this will play out, but it does not look good for either the faculty or the many other bargaining units and people on campus who rely on HAP health insurance.

The teams are next scheduled to meet on July 27.

Another 16 days gone, forever - July 10, 2015

On June 24 your negotiating team was told it would receive on July 10 the remainder of Oakland's initial proposals covering "insurance, retirement and salary." However, Oakland's team came to the table today with nothing. The faculty's team was told that Oakland cannot make an economic offer until the faculty agree on the Oakland's sweeping structural changes to the distribution of merit pay, and that there is a "hiccup" in finalizing their initial insurance proposal.

Despite this lack of progress, Oakland pressed the faculty team to sign off on nearly two dozen articles, effectively declaring them off limits for the duration of the negotiations. Your team declined.

In order not to waste the entire day, your faculty team went through the Oakland proposal item by item and provided the following detailed responses:

The following Oakland proposals are acceptable to the AAUP and will be included in the next AAUP comprehensive settlement package:

Department chairs - Oakland has not presented a compelling argument to remove department chairs from the bargaining unit. Since the composition of the bargaining unit is a permissive but not mandatory subject of bargaining, the AAUP team informed Oakland that it will not engage in further discussion of this topic.

It is important to note the distinction between mandatory (wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment), permissive (other topics bargained by mutual agreement) and prohibited (unlawful under a collective bargaining statute or other law) subjects of bargaining. By law, neither the union nor the employer may insist on bargaining a permissive subject to the point of impasse.

Association Rights - Oakland's initial position far oversteps the recent rulings of MERC in an attempt to restrict your Association in terms of both membership and financial support. Oakland and your team (supported by your team's attorney) have significant differences of opinion over recent MERC rulings concerning the rules by which membership and financial support can be revoked. We continue to research and bolster our position. Your team will be providing a counter proposal as part of the next comprehensive settlement package.

Recommendations to the Board of Trustees - Oakland proposed that, in the event that the Board of Trustees cannot gather a quorum to take official action on personnel matters as described in the Agreement, candidates for reappointment or promotion would be notified of Oakland's decision and official action would wait until the Board next met. However, unless the recommendation of Oakland to the Board of Trustees is binding on the Board, the AAUP prefers that the Board acts as directed per the Agreement, and that exceptions to the Board schedule will continue to be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Post Tenure Review. P41.k. The national AAUP's Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure states "The Association believes that periodic formal institutional evaluation of each post-probationary faculty member would bring scant benefit, would incur unacceptable costs, not only in money and time but also in dampening of creativity and of collegial relationships, and would threaten academic freedom." (Post-Tenure Review: An AAUP Response). Oakland has provided no rationale that would suggest that the proposed procedure would materially increase the productivity or effectiveness of faculty teaching, research or service. Quite the contrary, the time spent on this effort would materially reduce the time spent teaching, engaging in scholarship and useful service. Oakland's proposal to institute post-tenure review is not acceptable to the AAUP.

Dean-determined merit pay. Oakland proposed to provide faculty salary increases only "as deemed appropriate by their applicable deans," stating repeatedly in discussion of this topic that merit-only increases are the usual model at private and non-unionized schools and claiming (without supporting data) that "most schools in the country pay only on the basis of merit." Oakland's proposal for dean-controlled increases is rife with potential for abuse, would incur unacceptable costs in the dampening of creativity and of collegial relationships, and would threaten academic freedom. For these reasons, Oakland's proposal is not acceptable to the AAUP.

Change to P. 89, eliminating the preference of bargaining-unit faculty for summer teaching. No rationale was given for this change; in fact it wasn't even mentioned when Oakland went through their proposal on June 24. This proposal is not acceptable to the AAUP.

Tuition waiver - Once again, this is a benefit that Oakland faculty give to each other; the cost to Oakland is minimal and more than paid for with the 10% fee proxy. Oakland's proposal to decrease the tuition waiver benefit to 50% is not acceptable to the AAUP.

Exchange of information - Oakland proposed that email be the method of notice to the Association and faculty regarding official matters. As we all know, email is intermittently unreliable. While it may be acceptable to include email as an additional form of notice, written notice must continue to be the primary form of notice served to the Association and/or faculty members. As presented, this proposal is not acceptable to the AAUP.

Appendix A - No rationale, other than the desire for increased "flexibility," was presented to drastically increase the number of non-tenure-track research or full-time adjunct faculty allowed in the Agreement. As presented, this proposal is not acceptable to the AAUP.

We are scheduled to go to the table next on July 17.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss - June 24, 2015

For those of you who have asked whether new leaders of the administration will bring a change of tone and substance to the bargaining table, those questions were answered in no uncertain terms on June 24, when your bargaining team was presented with Oakland's initial, incomplete, set of proposals.

Those of you who have been around a while will recognize the same tired, stale ideas. Regardless of how long you have been here, you now have tangible proof of how Oakland values your work and respects you as people. Without further ado, let's dig into Oakland's ideas of how the relationship between the faculty and administration can improve, in the order it was presented to your bargaining team.

Article II - Recognition. Oakland is once again proposing to remove the department chairs from the bargaining unit. The rationale given for such a fundamental change is that Oakland believes that the chairs would be more effective and efficient as administrators, and that their input to Oakland would be more important if they were not faculty. No proof of these claims was produced, nor were they supported with data.

Article V - Association Rights. Recent changes in MI law state that payment of union dues cannot be a condition of employment. Oakland's proposal goes far beyond that simple change, and attempts also to make membership in the Association optional and even define the rights of membership. All of this is, of course, a blatant attempt both to weaken and bankrupt your Association.

Oakland's proposal contains language that would require all faculty members to submit new dues payroll deduction forms, of course to give Oakland an opportunity to discourage faculty from joining and financially supporting their Association. We were told across the table that Oakland does not have copies of the old forms or records of dues deduction authorization, despite the fact that the originals are routinely delivered to payroll as they are processed by the Association office.

Article VII - Faculty Employment, Re-Employment and Tenure. In addition to numerous changes that strike language concerning the appointment and duties of department chairs, Oakland has put forth a proposal that attempts to deal with the too-frequent situation of the Board of Trustees cancelling meetings that are required to meet contractual deadlines for personnel action, such as final approval of tenure decisions and promotions. We were told that faculty members will be notified of Oakland's recommendations by the deadlines currently in the Agreement, but that final action - without guarantee that they will conform to Oakland's recommendations - may take place up to several months later. When asked, Oakland admitted that the Board of Trustees has rarely acted counter to Oakland's recommendations, but could not produce an actual number of times this has occurred. Again when asked, Oakland admitted that the Board of Trustees is free to act in whatever direction they choose, regardless of Oakland recommendation.

A bright spot in the proposal - Oakland has offered to extend the probationary period for faculty who are granted a change in review schedule due to injury, complications related to pregnancy, etc. in both P.38f and in P.171c of Article XX, Leaves with Pay.

Oakland's proposal of Article VII also features another attempt at post-tenure review, see the text of Oakland's proposal here. Oakland is proposing that all tenured faculty members be reviewed by their department peers periodically after tenure, using procedures to be developed by faculty, and to recommend a "Developmental Plan" for those whose "performance must be enhanced." The intent of this proposal was summed up by Oakland's chief spokesman as "Do your peers think you are as great as when we last blessed you?" There was, of course, no mention how this blatantly punitive provision would negatively affect faculty morale, productivity or collegiality.

Article XI - Salary for Full-Time Non-Visiting Faculty. Oakland has proposed many fundamental changes to the structure of faculty salary:

Oakland stated that they believe that 76a and 76b address the "perception of compression," but ultimately, "to the extent that it [compression] exists," that "merit resolves compression." It is their goal that all salary increases must be based on merit in order to "incentivize a certain level of performance." It is telling that, when questioned about a statement that "most schools in the country pay on the basis of merit, not across the board," Oakland could not back that statement up with examples, data or facts of any kind. A quick and non-exhaustive check shows that at least WSU, CMU, Ferris State, WMU, EMU, NMU and Saginaw Valley all include across-the-board raises in their faculty compensation (and some of these also have compression mitigation plans built into their contracts). Another unsubstantiated Oakland statement that flies in the face of human resources research: "We think that merit does not exacerbate compression."

When asked about the wisdom of putting the ability to determine the salary increases solely in the hands of the deans, Oakland's chief spokesman, "just thinking out loud," opined that perhaps standards could be written so that favoritism would not be a significant problem, and could be "alleviated" by the dean having to produce a "preview" of the merit pay allocation before the actual, nongrievable, distribution is finalized. In addition, there is no provision offered for explanation of the reasoning behind the particular salary increase, or lack of increase, so just as with 76b, there would be no sense of exactly why a faculty member got or did not get a merit increase.

Article XIII - Compensation for Special Lecturers. The only change to special lecturer compensation and benefits offered by Oakland is to refine the language how Oakland's contribution to medical benefits is calculated. There was also clear indication that Oakland intends to seek changes in the percentages that Oakland contributes to special lecturer health insurance. No response to the Association's extensive proposal concerning special lecturer compensation or presumption of continuance was offered.

Article XVII - Tuition Benefit. Oakland is again seeking to have faculty pay 50% of tuition for themselves, spouses and their dependents. The only rationale given for this change is "everyone else charges 50%." When this topic was last discussed 3 years ago the Association successfully argued that this benefit costs Oakland next to nothing, it is a benefit that faculty give to each other and that the 10% was agreed to cover the costs of (currently hidden) fees associated with adding one more student to the system . When asked why this is again on the table, Oakland responded that the Association's rationale "doesn't make a difference."

Article XIX - Faculty Travel and Article XX - Leaves with Pay. Oakland's proposal caps the amount of faculty travel at the amount allocated in 2014-15, with no increases for the life of the Agreement. Oakland proposed language to charge faculty who do not return to Oakland following a sabbatical for the salary and benefits paid during the sabbatical. And finally, Oakland proposed capping the amount of research funding at the same level allocated in 2014-15, with no increase for the life of the Agreement.

Oakland stated at the table that it spends far more than the contractual amount annually on faculty travel, but could not produce data, numbers or facts to back that statement up when challenged.

Article XXIV - Grievance Procedure. Oakland's only proposal in this article was to offer to suggest additional names for the incomplete list of arbitrators. In a verbal response to your Association's concern that hearing dates for arbitrations are not scheduled in a timely fashion, your team was told that arbitrators are busy, and that it is a serious challenge to marshal witnesses to schedule hearings. When your team pointed out that the issue was Oakland's lack of response in scheduling the hearings, and an offer was made to provide the paper trail substantiating those facts, discussion of this topic abruptly ended.

Article XXXIII - Exchange of Information. Oakland proposed that email be an alternative to physical delivery of official ("required or legally necessary official notices") notices to faculty members or their Association. All of us who have suffered through the vagaries of the email system understand the difficulties of this suggestion.

Article XXVI - Department Chairperson. Consistent with Oakland's desire to split the bargaining unit and separate department chairs from the faculty, they have proposed that this entire article be struck.

Appendix A - Research and Full-Time Adjunct Faculty. Oakland proposed more than doubling the number of research professors, a 43% increase in the number of full-time adjuncts and more than doubling the number of full-time adjuncts allotted to Nursing and Health Sciences. When asked if there was a problem with the restrictions or current numbers of faculty in these positions, no rationale was offered by Oakland.

This concludes the provisions in Oakland's original proposal, well over 55 pages of mostly recycled, rehashed, warmed-over and punitive suggestions, few of which could even remotely be considered to increase the morale, productivity or support of the faculty. Quite the contrary, taken as a whole, the provisions included in this proposal would have faculty constantly at each other's throats, witch-hunting and punishing each other in post-tenure reviews (or at the very least wasting precious time and resources better spent on scholarship or teaching), striving to please a dean for a chance to take merit, travel and research money away from colleagues, placing the burden of grieving administrative department chairs on an Association without sufficient funds to vigorously defend the Agreement.

You will notice that there is no mention of salary or health insurance. Your team was told that Oakland could not come up with a proposal for "salary, retirement and health insurance" in the 24 days since the last meeting. The mention of "retirement" was not explained; consider it an omen. We have been told to expect an economic proposal by July 10.

Needless to say, there is very little in Oakland's proposal that is even remotely acceptable. It is certainly not in the spirit of the AAUP proposal, which was focused on the minimum necessary to move the university forward while embracing the rhetoric of the new administrative leadership. This proposal from Oakland is several steps backward, and clearly demonstrates a lack of thought, consideration and respect.

How can you help?

Your Bargaining Team has not lost hope, nor are our goals for this negotiation any less clear. The faculty are committed to moving Oakland forward in a positive manner, regardless of what games and posturing Oakland chooses to demonstrate at the table. The sooner this initial nonsense is swept away, the sooner we can all concentrate on a new Agreement that provides the faculty with the resources and compensation necessary to carry out the new missions announced by the administration.

To speed this process along, we are asking you (those of you who consider yourself safe from administrative retaliation) to contact directly your dean, the provost and even the president and let your voice be heard. We would appreciate a copy of your comments, but that is your choice. Understand that Oakland's proposal, and everything in it, is not directed solely at the AAUP Bargaining Team, it is directed to each and every Oakland University faculty member. As always, your team appreciates and welcomes any feedback you care to offer. Each of you (who feels safe enough) should also feel free to express your opinions about these negotiations to:

George Hynd, OU President -
James Lentini, OU Provost -
Kevin Corcoran, CAS Dean -
Michael Mazzeo, SBA Dean -
C. Robert Maxfield, SEHS Dean -
Louay Chamra, SECS Dean -
Gary Moore, SON Interim Dean -
Richard Rozek, SHS Interim Dean,
Nancy Bulgarelli, KL Interim Dean -
Frank Giblin, ERI Director -

Opening Day of Negotiations - June 1, 2015

As the faculty head into the 2015 negotiations, we are highly encouraged. With recent changes in Oakland administration, one can feel a renewed sense of cooperation and collegiality on campus. After nearly two decades of unsustainable student population growth and tightly controlled central planning, the faculty and other campus constituencies have been included in meaningful planning in all aspects of the future of Oakland University. More open dialogue, consequential consultation and transparent operations are becoming the new normal at OU. The faculty are highly encouraged, and eager to move forward with a student-centered, community-driven focus.

It is within this new spirit of cooperation and transparency that the faculty open the 2015 negotiations today with a very different style of bargaining than we have used before. Faculty and administration teams typically introduce dozens of proposals across the table during any given summer, initially asking for generous terms and hoping that what remains after countless hours of discussion and compromise is acceptable to faculty and Oakland alike. As your bargaining team listened to and very carefully weighed the valuable input you provided through the Advisory Forum surveys, meetings with academic units, and personal discussions and emails, we developed - and presented today - a comprehensive settlement proposal that contains all of, and only, the terms that the faculty needs to move forward.

You can see the proposal itself and the rationale for it below. It is posted here because it is important that all faculty know exactly what the bargaining team is doing. It is also very important for all to understand what this proposal is not. It is not pie-in-the-sky fantasy. It is not a wish list, it only contains what the faculty needs to move forward. Not a single portion of the proposal is outrageous, unaffordable or unreasonable.

The settlement proposal directly addresses very few language items, about 10% of the number of issues that are addressed during a typical bargaining session. Most of the proposal is concerned with compensation - competitive salaries that keep up with the cost of living, affordable and useful health insurance, performance-based merit salary increases, adequate travel money to do the work of the university, etc. The proposal also contains invitations for continuing open dialogue on several crucial issues that affect all of the campus community, such as useful long-term disability insurance and work schedule accommodations for new parents. Furthermore, there is an opportunity for the new Agreement to be in place for a longer period, to allow planning and budgeting to become much more meaningful for both administration and faculty alike.

Why would we do this? Isn't it unorthodox to show the administration our bottom line at the beginning of negotiations? Well yes, it might be. But we have listened very carefully to both the faculty and administration, and we believe protracted, antagonistic negotiations are not in anyone's best interest in 2015. Encouraged by the new spirit of cooperation and planning on campus, we are offering to cut through the dramatic nonsense that accompanies most negotiations. We are taking the risk of showing our cards early in order to move more quickly towards a fair, affordable settlement that addresses the needs of the faculty. We are hopeful that the administration will appreciate and embrace this effort, and that agreement can be reached quickly in order to get on with the task of working towards developing OU into a preeminent metropolitan university, together.

Updated Financial Analysis of Oakland University - May 13, 2015

As always when we head into bargaining, we commissioned Rudy Fichtenbaum (professor of economics at Wright State University and current President of the AAUP) to update his previous analyses of Oakland's financial condition. His full report is available here and concludes that "the University's financial condition has remained stable and it remains in excellent financial condition."

The Realities of Public Sector Negotiating in MI - May 1, 2015

In a perfect world, negotiations take place between equals. Each side offers and withholds what they bring to the potential deal as they see fit, can make and accept offers based on their best interests and the interest of a continuing relationship with the other party. Neither side can be forced into a contract or have a settlement imposed on it.

But it is not a perfect world.

Both Oakland and the faculty bring to the negotiations enormous value. Oakland controls all of the resources of the university - money for salaries, benefits, supplies, travel, etc.; allocation of space for academic purposes; number and distribution of faculty and non-faculty positions; even tenure and other forms of job security. The faculty offer their labor - their knowledge and their skill to teach and generate new knowledge - in order to carry out the mission of the university. In an atmosphere of mutual respect, the negotiations are always off to a good start.

It is in the end game of the negotiations, however, that real world is revealed. Oakland is never obligated to make any offers they disagree with and can legally impose a contract on the faculty if agreement cannot be reached through negotiations. On the other hand, the faculty cannot legally withhold their labor from the university and therefore has little leverage within the negotiations to move Oakland in any direction they do not choose to move. These are the realities of labor negotiations in Michigan for public employees.

Keep these two simple statements in mind as we move through the summer: The Agreement contains only provisions that Oakland has chosen to offer to the faculty. Each offer from Oakland is a demonstration of how much Oakland values the work of the faculty and respects the faculty as people.