Akron-AAUP’s Negotiating Team Responds
In its response to the Akron-AAUP’s critique of President Miller’s 7/17/20 video, the University’s Negotiation Team (NT) continues what is now a pattern of dissembling by the University Administration in an increasingly desperate attempt to frighten faculty members into voting for ratification.
The Name and Nature of the Proposed Agreement
The University’s NT makes much of the fact that the proposed agreement is labeled a “Tentative Agreement” and claims that the Akron-AAUP’s Negotiation Team agreed to it. Unlike the tentative agreement of March 2020, which was agreed to and signed by both sides but was never presented to the Board of Trustees for its approval, the current proposed agreement was not, as a whole, agreed to by the Akron-AAUP NT. Our NT agreed to parts of the proposed agreement but did not agree to other parts, including the layoffs. The University sought mid-term modifications of the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) under Article 33, Section 3 of the CBA. That Section requires the Akron-AAUP to negotiate those proposed modifications in good faith and the NT is presenting the result of those negotiations to the Chapter membership for a ratification vote. On several important issues, the University insisted on having its way and refused to compromise. In those instances, the Akron-AAUP NT did not agree with the University’s positions and advised the University’s NT that those provisions would jeopardize ratification but recognized its duty to present them to the membership for a ratification vote. The University’s NT knows perfectly well that our NT did not agree to those provisions. Their claim to the contrary is nothing short of dishonest. The proposed agreement is in fact the University’s last, best, and final offer, not something the Akron-AAUP NT agreed to. On a number of occasions, we warned them that their intransigence would make it difficult to secure ratification of the contract. The most neutral but still accurate characterization of it is “proposed agreement.”
The Scope of the Arbitration
The University NT’s response claims that the Akron-AAUP’s statement mischaracterizes the scope of the arbitration by stating that it will include the mid-term modifications of the current CBA as well as the University’s invocation of force majeure to justify laying off faculty members without complying with the procedural or substantive requirements of the retrenchment article of the CBA. As the University’s NT knows, until July 20, the two sides had agreed that the arbitration would encompass both the Article 15 (retrenchment) and Article 33, Section 3 (mid-term modifications) issues. It was only on July 20, after the issuance of the Akron-AAUP statement to which the University’s NT now objects as a mischaracterization of the scope of the arbitration, that the University walked away from this agreement.
“What you are not being told”
The University NT’s response complains that the Akron-AAUP did not tell its members various things in its response to President Miller’s video. Our response to the President’s video was entitled “Falsehoods and Misleading Statements in President Miller’s Video of 7/17/20.” It did not purport to describe the contents of the proposed agreement. It was expressly and solely a response to the false and misleading statements in the President’s video. There is nothing that obliges the Akron-AAUP to remain silent in the face of false or misleading statements by the University.
The “bridge to retirement”
The University’s NT states, “The University and Akron-AAUP agreed, subject to ratification of the Tentative Agreement, that dozens of faculty members would be provided a bridge to retirement, which would include severance payments, the ability to transition voluntarily to unpaid leave status to maintain employment until age 65, health care coverage, sick leave payouts and unemployment compensation benefits.” This is false or misleading in four respects:
- It implies that the “severance” payments are a gratuity for those who are being laid off. In fact, they are (meager) compensation and an inducement for waivers of legal claims against the University.
- It implies that sick leave payouts are a benefit of the proposed agreement. In fact, anyone on the layoff list who retires by August 21, 2020 with at least ten years of service is by contract entitled to the sick leave payout, whether the University agrees to it or not.
- It falsely implies that those who are laid off by the University will not be entitled to unemployment compensation unless the proposed CBA is ratified.
- Only four faculty members on the RIF list are eligible to be furloughed until they attain age 65 under the terms of the proposed agreement.
The “severance payment”
The University’s NT states, “Akron-AAUP’s leadership characterizes the $12,000 severance payment as ‘meager.’ Notably, that figure is the number that Akron-AAUP last proposed, which the Administration’s negotiation team accepted. It was accepted because it is fair under the Administration’s financial circumstances and would provide those affected by the RIF an opportunity for a severance payment to help them and their families transition, whether it be to retirement or to alternate employment.”
Initially, our NT proposed severance payments up to $40,000. The University rejected this proposal. Instead, the University’s NT said that the layoffs would be effective on or about August 21 and that the University would condition the sick leave payouts for retiring faculty members on their execution of a waiver and release of liability. When our NT pointed out that this would be illegal because the sick leave payout is a contractual entitlement as long as the faculty members who are being laid off retire before August 21, the University’s NT (after researching the issue) tacitly conceded the point and responded by saying that the layoffs would be effective immediately on July 15, when the Board would act on the layoffs. After our NT then pointed out that some of the laid-off faculty members are teaching during the Summer II term, which was to begin on July 13, the University’s NT reverted to a separation date of August 21. When we pointed out that the University has significant exposure to liability and would still need waivers, the University’s NT suggested that we make another proposal. Knowing that the University had rejected our initial severance proposal of $40,000, we made the more modest proposal of $2,000 for each year of service up to a maximum of $20,000. The University proposed the $1,200 a year / $12,000 maximum numbers. We regarded a $12,000 severance payment for faculty members with up to 40 years of service as inadequate, and said as much to their NT, but the University had made it clear that they were unwilling to agree to a significantly larger payment. We warned them that $12,000 might well not be enough to induce the waivers they sought. It is disingenuous of the University’s NT now to imply otherwise.
Retiree Benefit Concessions
The University NT writes, “Akron-AAUP negotiated hard to allow individuals on the RIF list who were near retirement an opportunity to retire during the 2020-2021 academic year instead of being laid off as of July 15, 2020. This is part of the tentative agreement. If the Administration had not agreed to this provision, pursuant to University Policy, none of these individuals would have been considered University retirees, granting them certain benefits, such as payment of their accrued sick leave. So, to suggest that there was no concession by the University on this point in the tentative agreement is false and misleading.”
The Akron-AAUP response to President Miller’s video did not claim, either expressly or by implication, that the University made no concession on this point. As previously explained, the University’s NT retreated from its position that the layoffs would be effective immediately upon Board action on July 15 when our NT pointed out that some of the faculty members on the layoff list were slated to teach courses during the Summer II term, which was to begin on July 13. This was a concession on the part of the University, albeit a concession to the reality of its own financial and reputational self-interest.
Our Offer of Steeper Temporary Pay Cuts
The University’s NT omits our response to the University’s stated rationale for rejecting our offer of steeper temporary pay cuts in exchange for fewer layoffs. We pointed out that there are bound to be more faculty retirements and resignations in the next year, as there are every year, and that temporary pay cuts can serve the University as a bridge to those permanent expenditure reductions. We also pointed out that the University’s budget assumptions are quite pessimistic and uncertain; it may well turn out, as it has repeatedly in recent years, that the actual budget deficit for FY 2021 is considerably less than the projection of $65 million. To these points, the University’s NT responded that the University wants to get the expenditure reductions over all at once rather than (perhaps) having to go through another round of layoffs next year. We replied that this strategy is misconceived because a larger layoff this year would cause more reputational damage to the University and a greater consequent drop in student enrollment than would a smaller layoff this year and possibly (but possibly not) another, smaller layoff next year. The University was intransigent on this point. Their underlying premise evidently is that the University is over-invested in instruction, more so than in other areas including athletics.
Damage to the Quality of Academic Programs
The University’s NT claims that the quality of the University’s academic programs will not be substantially damaged by the layoffs. This claim is so implausible that it cannot be taken seriously.
Drawn-out Legal Challenges
The University’s NT writes, “Should the tentative agreement not be ratified, then legal challenge will undoubtedly ensue. There are various forums that could be used. Arbitration is one.” As they well know, the current collective bargaining agreement provides exclusively for arbitration as the mechanism for resolving disputes between the Akron-AAUP and the University over alleged violations of the CBA and over mid-term modifications of the current contract. They also know that we agreed to an expedited arbitration process based on written briefs, without witness testimony. Until just recently, that agreement had called for both the Article 15 issue and the mid-term modifications sought by the University to be resolved in the same arbitration, with a decision to be announced by September 18. Recently the University changed its position. It now insists that only the Article 15 issue be resolved in the upcoming arbitration and that the mid-term modifications be resolved, if at all, in a subsequent arbitration. It is the University, not the Akron-AAUP, that is prolonging this dispute, and needlessly so.
The University’s NT notes that our NT promised not to take a position on whether the proposed agreement should be ratified. They note that both the Akron-AAUP’s Executive Committee and its Departmental Liaison Council voted not to recommend ratification and imply that the NT’s promise of neutrality has been broken. As the University’s NT knows, our NT promised only that we – the NT – would not solicit no votes on the question of ratification. We did not, nor could we legitimately, promise that the Executive Committee or the Departmental Liaison Council would remain neutral on the question of ratification. As we pointed out to the University’s NT in the last negotiation session, under the Akron-AAUP’s Constitution, both the Executive Committee and the Departmental Liaison Council are required to make recommendations to the Chapter membership before the ratification vote.