February 15, 2016 – FAQ: Contract Negotiations and a Faculty Strike

Why are we considering a strike? What are the issues at stake?

The larger issues at stake are the quality of education at The University of Akron and the University’s misplaced priorities. We believe that the University administration must prioritize the educational mission of the institution in a way that places academic instruction and student learning first. Faculty who are fairly and competitively compensated is essential to this goal.

Where do we stand today?

We have submitted all of our proposals to the University and now have all of theirs. The following Articles are still being negotiated; Article 20 (Distance and Distributed Learning); Article 16 (Compensation) and Article 17 (Benefits).  Recently, we have reached agreement on Article 18 (Professional Development Leave), and Article 19 (Intellectual Property).

While there has been progress on non-economic issues, we now face very difficult negotiations on compensation and health care benefits. The Akron-AAUP regards the University’s salary proposal as entirely insufficient, and the increased costs of health care plans, and aggressive phase-out of retiree spouse and dependent coverage, all as punitive, unnecessary, and indefensible.

What Happens Next?

We will continue to negotiate in order to reach agreement. If we are unable to reach agreement on disputed issues very soon, impasse will be declared, and the issues referred to the fact finding process.

What is ‘Fact Finding’ ?

Fact-finding is a method for resolving impasse on issues in collective bargaining with an independent third party. Unlike arbitration, the fact-finder’s resolutions to issues are not absolutely binding upon either party and are subject to a vote.

Upon reaching impasse, both sides submit formal briefs on each unresolved issue to the fact finder, who will review them and make a ruling on the merits. The fact finder will issue his report in approximately 14 days with proposed resolutions to outstanding issues. The fact-finder’s report, including all previously agreed-to articles, is the new contract, subject to a vote of the union membership and the Board of Trustees. Both sides will have 10 days to vote to reject an unfavorable report.

If neither side rejects, we have a contract.

If either side rejects, we can (a) return to the negotiating table;  (b) the University can impose its last best offer on all issues; and/or (c) the Chapter can give a 10 day strike notice and then go out on strike, if the membership previously voted to authorize such an action.

Rejection of the fact-finder’s report requires more than a simple majority of votes cast. In order to reject the report, at least 60% of the eligible voting members must vote to do so. To accept a favorable report no individual action is required; abstentions count as votes-in-favor of the report.

Although it is our hope that the fact finder will issue a report that is a fair and reasonable contract, we would serve our members inadequately if we didn’t plan for the worst case scenario of the administration attempting to impose unacceptable terms and conditions of employment on the bargaining unit faculty.

The University and the Akron-AAUP have agreed to a fact finder, Mr. Rob Stein, who has served as both mediator and fact-finder in our previous negotiations.

What happens if the University or The Akron-AAUP rejects the fact-finder’s report?

Upon rejection by either side, as a practical matter, the parties may continue to try to negotiate a final deal.  However, upon rejection of the report the administration may implement its last best offer on all issues. If the administration implements, it must implement its entire offer. Tentative agreements on specific articles will stand and cannot be withdrawn. The administration must implement its last best offer on all issues;  it cannot cherry-pick which contract articles to impose and which to continue to negotiate. If the administration implements its last best offer the Akron-AAUP must decide whether to capitulate or to proceed with a strike.

Is a strike legal in higher education?

Yes. In 1984, Chapter 4117 of the Ohio Revised Code (ORC) established the collective bargaining law for public employees in Ohio, including the right to strike.

What is a Strike Authorization vote?

A strike authorization vote by union members gives the Executive Committee the authority to call a strike at the appropriate time. A strike will  be used only as a last resort. An authorization vote can give the Negotiation Team needed leverage at the bargaining table by showing clearly the degree of faculty resolve.

Who decides whether we go on strike?

The leadership of the Akron-AAUP cannot authorize a strike; only the members can do so.  The Akron-AAUP Executive Committee may recommend to the membership to vote in favor of strike authorization.  If the authorization vote is positive, the Executive Committee  is  then empowered to call a strike at an appropriate time, when such an action would be maximally effective.  A positive authorization vote does not mean a strike is inevitable, but it signals to both the union leadership and the administration that there is support among the membership for taking such action.

What if the membership votes against authorizing a strike?

In that event, the Akron-AAUP will have no leverage at the bargaining table and we will be forced to try to bargain a contract on the University’s terms.  Without leverage, faculty will almost certainly end up with an unreasonable contract.

If there’s a strike, will I have a choice whether to participate?

A strike will not be successful unless everyone stands together; full dues-paying members of the union have made a commitment to do so. Bargaining unit faculty who are not union members can also participate in a strike, and they can do so with full legal protection against punitive actions by the University.

It is clear that some Faculty members have responsibilities that cannot be neglected, such as time-sensitive grant-funded lab research, medical and therapeutic care for patients, or the maintenance of laboratory animals. You must decide on an individual basis which activities meet this standard and which do not.  At the same time, you must also know that the success of a strike depends on the participation of every faculty member. A divided strike is a failed strike. If a strike occurs, your individual choices will affect the collective outcome. Although individuals can choose not to strike, individuals can NOT choose to be exempted from the contract finally implemented.

Will I be paid if I strike?

According to state law, the University is prohibited from paying employees for the days they are on strike.  It is possible, though not guaranteed, that negotiations to end the dispute would include the rescheduling of any classes missed during a strike and appropriate payment for those lost days.

What about health benefits during a strike?

According to state law, public employees are not entitled to compensation, including benefits, for the period they are engaged in a strike.  However, the University is required to comply with Public Health Services Act that provides the opportunity for health coverage continuation for state and local government employees if a “qualifying event,” including a strike, occurs.  For more information, go to: http://www.cms.hhs.gov/hipaa/hipaa1/cobra/default.asp.

This coverage parallels COBRA coverage in the private sector.  Employees would be able to elect such coverage at their own expense. Akron-AAUP may be able to assist with some costs.  Alternatives include “special enrollment” in a spouse’s health plan, or month-to-month “stopgap” insurance that is available from private vendors.  If an individual does not elect continuation of coverage under the Public Health Services Act, the University will presumably instruct the vendor not to process insurance claims for the dates during which a given employee was determined to be participating in a strike.

If someone isn’t an Akron-AAUP member, is it okay to cross a picket line?

The decision to cross or honor a picket line is a matter of personal conscience.The success of a strike depends entirely on maximum participation of all faculty who are members of the bargaining unit, whether they are dues-paying AAUP members or not.  All full-time faculty at UA, exclusive of visiting or temporary positions, from college lecturers through professors, are members of the bargaining unit, and therefore the decisions they make have an impact on the outcome.

How will a strike affect pre-tenure faculty who participate?

It is illegal for the University to punish individual faculty for participation in union activities up to and including participation in a strike.  Should any punitive actions be taken, Akron-AAUP would aggressively pursue legal remedies, as we have in filing past unfair labor practice charges.  To our knowledge, the current administration has not engaged in this type of punitive activity with regard to tenure and promotion decisions.

What about students?

We are negotiating to secure a fair contract for faculty, one that provides for reasonable pay and competitive health care benefits.  Success can ensure UA’s ability to attract and retain the best faculty and this, in turn, can only benefit our students.

As professors, we understand more fully than any Board of Trustees member how our students would be affected by our temporary absence from the job. We do not take this lightly. In the short run, there will be some disruption, but in the long run, students will benefit from an educational environment that attracts and retains quality faculty and that supports mainstream academic values.

Would I have access to my office/lab during a strike?

Technically, UA has the right to prohibit employees who strike from having access to University facilities.  However, it is unlikely that the University would engage in such conduct because this would prevent ALL professors from working during the strike.

Will the national AAUP help us with a strike?

Yes.  In the event of a strike, our advisers from National will be on hand to help with strategy and execution.  At Cincinnati State, the national AAUP offered to underwrite hardship loans, and it also provided some financial assistance for the AAUP chapter to get a temporary strike office off campus.  We hope that our friends in the community, particularly other unions, will help.

How long might a strike last?

There is no way to know how long a strike will last, but we must be prepared to do so for any length of time. Most faculty strikes at universities are brief. Youngstown State was on strike one week, the week before school started.  The Eastern Michigan University Chapter of  AAUP, went on strike last academic year from 12 midnight until 7:30 a.m. the same morning when issues were resolved.  The faculty strike at Northeastern Illinois University  lasted for 20 days.

Are there other options short of a strike?

According to ORC 4117, public employees may have recourse to informational picketing and/or striking.  Akron-AAUP has engaged in numerous and ongoing informational picketing events in the past.  A strike must be scheduled for full, consecutive workdays.  Ohio law does not recognize “blue flu,” (i.e., employees calling in sick on the same day), one-day strikes, or other types of quasi-strikes.  Such actions could be found to be illegal.  However, an individual’s decision to not participate in voluntary work activities is legal.

Where can I read the state law about strikes?

Go to the State Employee Relations Board (SERB) website at http://www.serb.state.oh.us/statute.html and look under Ohio Revised Code 4117.15.

Representatives of The Akron-AAUP continue to negotiate in good faith to resolve our issues and see that a strike is avoided, if at all possible. It will, however, be a grave mistake to underestimate our resolve in seeking fair contractual terms for the faculty.

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