By Emily Landgraf
The faculty union officers of the Rider chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) are preparing for the possibility of a strike vote if contract negotiations do not move forward today.
The AAUP represents Rider faculty, coaches and professional librarians, and the union’s contract extension expires today.
Negotiations between the union and university administrators broke down last Friday, according to Jeffrey Halpern, contract administrator and chief grievance officer for AAUP and a sociology professor. Halpern said that he had hoped the meeting would lead to more progress.
“Now, I’m always trying to be the optimist,” Halpern said. “I certainly don’t want to prematurely put anybody on edge, but we had a meeting [Tuesday]. We had well over 100 faculty. All were prepared, they said, if necessary [to strike]. The general sentiment was, ‘We don’t want a strike, but we will if we have to.’”
If negotiations continue without progress, there is a chance that a strike vote will be called, Halpern said. A strike vote grants the union leaders authority to call a strike if they feel it is necessary.
“If we don’t make progress this Friday, then we’re going to be looking probably to have an emergency meeting of our members and talk about what our courses are,” Halpern said. “That would probably be sometime next week. I’m still hoping, but I’m not very optimistic at this point that things will go better.”
Halpern said Thursday night that he expects that the current contract will be extended again no matter the outcome of today’s meeting.
At present, negotiations are slow, according to both the union and the administration. Compensation issues have yet to be discussed, with both sides currently locked in a stalemate over issues like governance, workload and the need for more full-time faculty.
Robert Stoto, associate vice president of Human Resources & Affirmative Action and chief negotiator for the administration, is hoping that both sides will make progress today.
“With the faculty labor agreement extension deadline approaching, the University remains willing to continue discussions aimed at reaching a new agreement with the AAUP and we remain optimistic that this will be accomplished,” he wrote in an e-mail sent Thursday.
Halpern stated that negotiations broke down last Friday because the Administration refused to meet the union team halfway on the issues being discussed. Stoto disagrees.
“During last Friday’s session, the union and the administration discussed proposals, which laid out common ground on a significant number of issues,” he said. “While the University was willing to continue the dialogue to bridge those differences that remained, the union chose not to do so and left the meeting. I expect that these discussions will continue at our next meeting and will include the important issues of workload and advising. Given the significant challenges that the negotiating teams face in bridging their differences, this process is likely to take time.”
The process will almost certainly take time, according to Halpern because compensation has yet to be discussed.
“We’re about to get into money, and that’s always spelled out as, ‘Well, gee, you’re going to hurt the students because you’re for more money,’” he said. “Our view on that is we have to be competitive.”
Stoto said that because student enrollment has declined slightly and because the need to provide financial aid for students has significantly increased, the university is trying to be fiscally responsible to meet the competing need of faculty and students.
“Finding the right balance among what are essentially competing demands on our limited resources is difficult and will be central to our discussions as these negotiations move towards their conclusion,” Stoto said.
Halpern says that while he is not overly optimistic about the situation, he has not given up on negotiations.
“We could have a breakthrough on Friday,” Halpern said Tuesday. “I would be the happiest man on campus if we had one, but if we don’t then I do think we will be looking at more serious situations.”
When discussing the issues with the chief negotiators of both the union and the administration it is easy to forget about those waiting on the sidelines for details — our professors.
Dr. Emmanuel Ahia, a counseling professor in the Department of Education’s graduate Counseling Services Program, believes it is important to keep in mind that both sides have the best interests of the university and the students in mind.
“There are good people on both sides — both the administration and the faculty union — all mean well for the university and for the students,” he said. “I think the professors here are very student-oriented. They wouldn’t want to do anything to hurt the academic development of our students. We have an administration that is also very student-oriented. That is the thing that links both the administration and us.”
Dr. Daria Cohen, an associate professor of Spanish, however, feels that the negotiations are creating a difficult environment for students.
“I’m especially concerned for my students because the school year has begun, and I feel like this is a very uncomfortable time to be going through all of this and that they deserve the best,” she said.
Cohen said there is no issue that trumps all the others in importance.
“I don’t think any one concern outweighs the other,” she said. “I think all the issues on the table are important. The negotiation has to go forth in good faith, and knowing that both sides want what’s best for the students, and that should not make it adversarial, but rather just fair.”