Summer 2015 Bargaining Diary

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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.