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The Price of Wage Concessions

September 10, 2009

Faculty at Rutgers University may have saved their jobs and their budgets last week. But in this year of furloughs and salary freezes, professors at the New Jersey state university believe they got more than vague pledges to minimize job cuts.

Members of the university’s chapters of the American Association of University Professors-American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT) voted in polling that ended Friday to accept delays in scheduled pay raises in exchange for promises that the institution would hold off on layoffs and other cost-cutting moves.

In all, the agreement will shave $23.6 million off Rutgers’ projected expenses for the next two years and protect 270 full-time employees and 450 part-time lecturers from losing their jobs. The university system’s annual budget totals $2 billion, but only a small fraction of that amount represents flexible spending that could even be considered for cuts.

Philip Furmanski, executive vice president for academic affairs, described the agreement as an instance in which “everybody sacrificed” to prevent layoffs, program cuts and across-the-board increases in teaching loads. The university also would have curtailed searches for new faculty hires, cut back on the availability of sabbaticals and reduced the number of sections being offered for some courses.

“This was a way for the university community to come together to address the same financial challenges that virtually every other university in the country faces,” he said. “We’re not out of the woods by any means but this is definitely something that will help us get through this very difficult period.”

Rutgers AAUP-AFT represents 2,500 faculty members and 1,700 teaching and graduate assistants at the New Jersey state university’s campuses in New Brunswick/Piscataway, Newark and Camden. Patrick Nowlan, the union’s executive director, said he was “happy to reach an agreement before the start of the semester” and “satisfied it didn’t ask for greater sacrifices from our members.”

The Rutgers agreement comes as many academic unions face pressure to accept wage concessions without, they fear, getting substantial concessions from their employers in return. The AAUP's Collective Bargaining Congress Executive Committee issued a resolution in August urging chapters facing pay freezes to "work to embed in any plan conditions that protect current instructional capacity, provide faculty a greater role in resource allocation, and that reverse the trends ... which undercut our ability to serve students and society."

Under the agreement, faculty pay raises that were scheduled to take effect on July 1 as part of the union’s 2007-11 contract will instead be phased in January and July of next year. Raises expected in the middle of next year under the contract will instead take effect in two parts during 2011. But the lower-paid members of the union -- teaching assistants, graduate students and part-time lecturers – will still get the pay raises provided for them by the contract.

Negotiations between the union’s leaders and university officials began soon after Gov. Jon Corzine introduced his state budget plan in March and finally reached a point of mutual consensus in mid-August. The agreement then went to members, who had until September 4 to vote for or against it. AAUP-AFT’s leaders and members were, Nowlan said, “frustrated it took as long as it did took to reach this agreement."

He said the union’s greatest concern is that university administrators were “less than forthcoming about their financial situation” and that members don’t see “proof that some of these structural changes to the contract were necessary.” The agreement establishes a new University Committee on Budget and Finance to oversee Rutgers’ spending of federal stimulus funds and the savings that came from the AAUP-AFT’s agreement. The panel will be chaired by Richard L. McCormick, the university’s president, but will include several union members. According to the agreement, the group will meet at least once a semester and issue an annual report each June that will be public and used by university's administrators and Board of Governors in formulating the next year's budget.

Cary Nelson, national president of the AAUP, said the Rutgers agreement is the best effort he’s seen at recession era give-and-take between an institution and its faculty union. “The union got some of what it needed and the university got what it needed,” he said. “This is how it’s supposed to work in an ideal world of negotiations.”

He added: “Rather than just sending a message to the faculty that this is what is going to happen to them, the university was willing to engage in talks and help reach an agreement that was favorable to both sides.”

Nelson pointed to the 23,000-member California Faculty Association’s July agreement with the state’s university system as another instance where union members and their institutions worked out an agreement that left both sides with a little bit of what they wanted. The union agreed to accept furloughs that will amount to pay cuts of 4 to 10 percent during the 2009-10 academic year “in the hope of protecting jobs, their own and those of others,” he said. But the California deal came with anger over what union members said was Chancellor Reed's unwillingness to guarantee that the furlough would save any single job or course. (Only 4 percent of those who voted on the deal said they had confidence in Reed's leadership, while 79% had "no confidence.)

While the agreement leaves Rutgers AAUP-AFT members largely unscathed, other unions including the Union of Rutgers Administrators-AFT (URA-AFT) and two AFSCME locals representing university employees are still at the bargaining table and face more onerous cuts.

The URA-AFT represents 1,900 administrative employees. Lucye Millerand, its president, said she has been negotiating with Rutgers for more than two months, since “at the very beginning of July we were unilaterally notified that [the university] was not planning to pay any of our raises beginning with that month’s first paycheck.”

She said the URA-AFT “had no discussion” with the university about a delay in the raises before it went into effect. The union has filed a grievance that is on its way to arbitration and continues to negotiate with university officials.

Furmanski said he could not comment on the negotiations, other than to say that Rutgers is “in discussions with all of the other unions at the university” to agree to conditions like those accepted by the faculty.

The URA-AFT hopes for an agreement similar to the AAUP-AFT’s. “Our members, I believe, are receptive to the idea of holding back raises to preserve jobs,” Millerand said. “But we still have members who are getting layoffs notices and then 30 days later they’re gone.”

Nowlan and the AAUP-AFT support the administrative employees’ union’s efforts. “We sense the university is trying to ask for even more from these staff locals,” he said, and “that’s really discouraging because most staff make less than members of the faculty.”

Millerand said her union would also be open to striking a deal like those agreed upon earlier this year by other state unions that include unpaid furloughs. “At least then we get a few days off where we don’t have to pay for child care … and can maybe clean our gutters instead of paying someone to do that.”

Otherwise, she said, "if necessary, we'll protest."

 

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