Collective Bargaining in Higher Education

by David Scott, councilor-at-large

David Scott, an NYC magnolia blossom, and Danny Harrington

David Scott, an NYC magnolia blossom, and Danny Harrington

National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions
45th Annual National Conference
Facing New Realities in Higher Education and the Professions
April 15, 16, 17, 2018 -- CUNY Graduate Center New York City

The other day I was chatting with a colleague who asked me, “How are things going with the union these days?” and I replied that I was going to be attending the Collective Bargaining in Higher Education Conference in New York City. He said, “Who is sending you?” and I said “You are! Your dues are, anyway.” I promised him I would send back a report to let him know how it went. Here is that report.

The big picture: more and more higher education faculty are unionizing! I noticed a big difference, even from last year’s conference. This comes from a lot of energy from part-time faculty but full-timers are often heavily involved as well. Faculty around the country are waking up to the power of collective action. Even just in the Boston area, we have Tufts, Lesley, Brandeis, Boston University, Bentley College, Harvard, and Northeastern University. We made connections with some of these rock-star organizers from SEIU and other groups.

One workshop was entitled “Organizing and Negotiating for Academic Labor”. Two of the panelists discussed the negotiating part, while the third discussed organizing. They drew up a conceptual frame which began with bargaining MODELS, then addressed negotiating STYLES, then hit on a bargaining PROCESS. Each step is distinct and can be mixed and matched with the others. The process step was an eye-opener to me because it drove home the importance of determining the PRINCIPLES behind the negotiation. A principle is a kind of rule, belief, or idea that guides you. The outreach work that the Berklee Department Reps have done this spring will help us determine the principles that motivate us in the upcoming bargain. If you didn't hear from your Rep, seek them out or volunteer to become a Rep yourself.

Another panel I attended was specifically about part-time faculty contracts at private institutions. Presenters were from both sides of the bargaining table: a faculty organizer and a management attorney. From the faculty side, they discussed systems that were devised to make course assignments and reappointment more fair. From the administration side, they showed how they maintained flexibility in hiring and firing while still taking into account evaluation criteria that the union wanted. One hot topic was how part-timers can achieve advancement. In one college, part-timers are guaranteed an interview if a full-time position opens up. 

The keynote presentation was given by David Weil, who worked for the Obama labor department and now is a Dean at Brandeis. He showed how the U.S. economy as a whole, and specifically higher education, has been fractured by the predominant practice of subcontracting. As companies — and colleges — focus on core competencies and outsource other functions, the social network function of the workplace suffers, causing job satisfaction and upward mobility to suffer.

Did you know that there is a Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service? I didn’t. They even have an office in Boston. Companies sometimes bring them in to sort out thorny issues between labor and management. The director of field programs and innovation from the FMCS gave a talk about a new bargaining model they have developed that they call “Straight Up Negotiations”. They send mediators and trainers around the country teaching management and labor bargaining teams how to put options from the other side into a zone of possible agreement. This zone (they call it the ZOPA) forms the framework for a final agreement.

A panel from Temple University brought two faculty members, an administrator, and an administration attorney together to talk about their first-ever contract after bringing part-time faculty into the full-time faculty union. Clearly there was a lot of work involved — their bargain took 15 months to agree to a 7-page contract — but they were able to come to an agreement. Adjunct faculty gained the rights to academic freedom, grievance procedures, and just cause for dismissal. Both sides were concerned with ensuring that the process addressed the needs of both part-time and full-time teachers. A point of contention was at what level of hours part-timers would be allowed to join the union.

To sum up, I just want to say thank you for sending me to this conference. I got a tiny glimpse of the big picture of this great big world of unionized higher education.

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