By Emily Landgraf
Members of Rider’s faculty union voted Thursday to authorize their negotiating team to call a strike, union officials said.
Negotiation sessions between the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) chapter and the administration are set for today and Saturday. If significant progress is not made, a strike could be called, Dr. Jeffrey Halpern, the chief negotiator for the union, said.
“We are at a critical juncture in this process,” Halpern said Wednesday. “From our perspective, there’s no point in going into this weekend’s negotiation without a strike authorization vote.”
According to Halpern, the union is not prepared to go much further than the negotiations set for today and Saturday.
“It’s our intent to reach a settlement this weekend, and if not then we see no point in continuing to talk and work at the same time,” Halpern said. “Certainly, I can say that we are prepared, but we are also extraordinarily reluctant.”
Hours after the strike vote, union members gathered in Fine Arts 357 to create signs in preparation for the possible strike.
Robert Stoto, associate vice president of Human Resources & Affirmative Action and chief negotiator for the administration, wrote in an email sent Thursday that the union calling a strike authorization vote is typical.
“Such a vote is not a declaration of a strike, but rather an indication of support for the AAUP’s negotiating team,” Stoto said. “While I understand the importance to the AAUP of this practice, the university remains unwavering in its commitment to see this process through to a fair conclusion.”
Halpern also stated that strike aurhorization votes are common.
“Strike authorizations do happen often, but not always,” he said. “Having said that, we have never taken such a vote without having every intention of using the authorization if we need to.”
Negotiations have been ongoing since July and all of the non-economic issues were resolved, including faculty governance, the policy regarding adjunct faculty and faculty workload. Both sides will now begin to negotiate the issues that may prove toughest: salary and benefits.
“The complex issues are behind us, the hard issues are in front of us,” Halpern said. “We have yet to get the university’s salary proposal. We’ve both now exchanged benefits, but, bluntly, you can’t negotiate benefits until you see salary. Complex issues do take a lot of talk to get a meeting of the minds. Money’s simple.”
Stoto stressed the importance of negotiating a contract that would see Rider through the current economic climate.
“The university is committed to continuing our practice of providing compensation and employee benefits which recognize the central role our faculty play in the lives of our students. It is essential that this be done in a way that allows Rider to continue to adjust to the new economic reality we all face.”
AAUP will not be “playing any games” when it comes to salary talks, Halpern said.
“We’re going to come in with a proposal that we think is the right number, and we’re going to expect to end up some place in that ballpark,” he said. “That will make this a lot easier.”
AAUP includes 256 full-time and 470 part-time professors, coaches and professional librarians. The union is currently working under a contract extension “indefinitely on three days notice,” according to an e-mail sent to AAUP members on Sept. 30.
Both sides acknowledge that there may well be obstacles over the weekend, but hope that progress will be made during the coming negotiation sessions.
“While meeting these important commitments will certainly be challenging, I am confident that the parties share these common goals and will therefore find the appropriate balance as we move towards a final agreement,” he said.
In this final stage of negotiations, Halpern believes it is important for both sides to be open with each other.
“It’s time, as they say in poker, to put your cards on the table,” he said. “When cards are up, we’ll all know where we stand.”