By Casey Gale
After summer contract negotiations turned into autumn contract negotiations, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) ratified a new three-year agreement on Oct. 14.
Though negotiations went up until the 11th hour when the union was threatening to strike, the contract largely remained the same, according to AAUP chief negotiator Dr. Jeffrey Halpern. However, there were a few changes and additions.
Both parties agreed that a particular article of the new agreement, which is perhaps the most significant of all the changes, is all-around positive for the university.
The Early Retirement Incentive Program introduced in the agreement will provide each year a select number of faculty members over 65 years old a buyout upon their voluntary retirement. Then, positions can be left unfilled for up to two years, meaning that, if the sections are needed, they will be taught by adjuncts. Retirements save wages because replacement faculty salaries and health care costs are lower.
“[That] aspect of the labor agreement is a win – win,” said Robert Stoto, chief negotiator for the university and associate vice president of human resources and affirmative action, in an email. “It acknowledges the many contributions of our faculty who are nearing the end of their career, while providing for both institutional academic renewal as well as contributing to the university’s long-term financial well-being.”
Halpern said the AAUP was pleased with this change in the agreement.
“We think it is a benefit to the institution as a whole,” he said.
Stoto added that the retirement program, and the settlement as a whole, would contribute to the university’s fiscal health.
“While the ultimate savings to the university will be based upon the actual retirement elections that cannot be known at this time, the plan will clearly have a positive effect on the university budget, over the long term,” he said. “This settlement is expected to contribute to our ongoing efforts to keep a Rider education affordable for all of our current and prospective students.”
Among other notable articles in the agreement:
l There will be a one-year wage freeze for faculty members and there will be no changes to medical benefits.
l Deans can no longer dictate in advance the number of sections that can be created within a department.
l A committee will be developed to set recommendations for what each course evaluation should ask (or not ask) students.
l The university will provide full-time faculty members with either a desktop or laptop computer. Laptops were not part of the last agreement.
l All faculty members can use the Princeton University library, which will allow access to more research materials. Previously, only a few passes were available.
Given the many months it took to produce what Halpern considered a small number of changes to the contract, he suggested a way to lessen the impact of a drawn-out negotiation process in the future.
“There is no way to completely avoid it – it’s the nature of the process that it’s pressure that makes the difference,” he said. “Having said that, one way to at least reduce the problem is to have a longer agreement. You can’t have one forever, for obvious reasons. We certainly felt we could’ve had a five-year agreement. At least that way, no student has to go through this twice.”
Stoto said that this issue could be remedied by adjusting the negotiation meeting times in the future.
“It is difficult to assess the environment that the parties will be negotiating in, three years from now,” he said. “As we offered during this just-concluded round of negotiations, the University is prepared to start the process sooner, meet more frequently and for longer periods of time, in an effort to reach settlement sooner.”
Halpern said that while he thinks pressure is a necessary negotiating tool, he would like to alleviate that pressure from students next time.
“We recognize from a psychological basis, students bear a lot of the pressure. That’s inevitable. Somebody once said, ‘Well, couldn’t you do this in a way that it wouldn’t hurt anybody?’ It wouldn’t work. Pressure works because it creates pain. But [a five-year contract] could reduce some of the pressure. It’s a big enterprise to do what we just did. Not just the people sitting at that table, but everybody on both sides – there’s preparation, there’s hours of work that could be better spent, including working with our students.”
According to Halpern, beyond the Early Retirement Incentive Program, the contract largely stayed the same.
“In some ways, it’s a little frustrating when you’re fighting so hard to stay in the same place,” he said. “We gained a little here, we lost a little there. But I think we had a good contract, and I think we still have a good contract.”
On the administration’s side, the Board of Trustees will vote on ratifying the agreement next week. Once that takes place, Halpern said the two parties will work on the specific language in the new contract.
“The words matter,” he said. “This is sometimes how you run into conflict down the road during the life of an agreement because now you look at it and think it says one thing while the other side thinks it says something slightly different. Hopefully, that won’t happen.”
According to Halpern, the new contract will not likely be signed until January.