Tensions rise as AAUP negotiations continue

By Emily Landgraf

An emergency meeting of Rider’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and possible strike authorization vote are set for Thursday if progress is not made during today’s contract negotiation session, according to an e-mail sent to union members on Wednesday.
AAUP members, which include all 256 full-time and 470 part-time professors, coaches and professional librarians, are currently working under a contract extension “indefinitely on three days notice,” according to an e-mail sent to AAUP members Sept. 30.
The current four-year contract expired at the end of August. Negotiations began in July and have proceeded slowly since then.
The union and administration representatives have discussed non-monetary issues such as faculty governance, the number of adjuncts and the role of faculty in academic policy, but have yet to discuss monetary issues such as salaries and benefits.
Each side has a different idea about how much progress was made during talks last week.
“The university presented its benefits proposals to the AAUP in June, at the beginning of negotiations, so the AAUP has had opportunity to assess the proposed changes,” said Robert Stoto, associate vice president of Human Resources & Affirmative Action and chief negotiator for the administration. “To date, the AAUP has not presented its benefits proposals. This makes our discussions somewhat more difficult, because the university’s position on compensation must take into account the economic impact of the cost of these faculty benefits. Nevertheless, the university plans on presenting a comprehensive wage and benefits proposal next week.”
Dr. Jeffrey Halpern, contract administrator and chief grievance officer for Rider’s chapter of the AAUP, as well as the chief negotiator for the union, said the AAUP membership is not happy with the administration’s benefits proposal.
“We do have the university’s proposal on benefits, and I can only describe it as completely unacceptable,” he said. “It would involve a major giveback for the majority of our members. It would be the equivalent of between a 3 to 5 percent reduction in salary for the majority of our members. That’s obviously unacceptable to us, and without going into the details of the nature of that proposal there are other elements that are equally unacceptable.”
Halpern said that very little progress was made at last Friday’s session and that only small issues had been resolved.
“We didn’t make a whole lot of forward motion on Friday, and we’re beginning again to feel that there’s simply not the desire to make that sort of progress,” he said Wednesday.
However, Stoto said that both parties had reached agreements on most non-economic issues.
“In our Oct. 7 session, we resolved the final language on eight articles that were tentatively agreed to the previous week and reached agreement on a number of additional articles,” Stoto wrote in an e-mail Wednesday. “Twenty-five articles are completely resolved, subject to final resolution on the full package.”
While Halpern expressed doubts about the current situation, Stoto remained optimistic about the process.
“Both sides had agreed to negotiate the non-economic articles prior to moving on to the economics,” he said. “Given that we have already identified common ground in a number of the remaining non-economic areas, I expect that if we maintain the momentum that we’ve achieved over the last several weeks, we can wrap up those articles relatively quickly.”
Halpern said that it is important to remember that the union is not only negotiating for current faculty.
“We also feel very strongly that we have to think about our colleagues who are yet to be here,” he said. “While we’re writing a contract for some set period of time… its impact goes further. We are certainly opposed to anything that says, ‘Oh, let’s pay for something today by taking away something from people who aren’t yet here,’ because tomorrow they will be here and they will be our colleagues.”
Halpern again stressed that the union members do not wish to call a strike, but will do so if they feel it is their only choice. They will be ready, according to the e-mail sent by Sethi-Clipper.
“On Thursday, October 20 from 3 to 5 p.m. in Fine Arts 357, the studio, the action committee will be making signs in preparation for a strike.”

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