United Staff of the AAUP
The American Association of University Professors in the last 100 years has represented many faculty members not just as the professional association it’s been since 1915, but, increasingly, as a union. The AAUP has also supported racial equity and vocally opposed efforts in Florida and elsewhere to limit discussions of race and gender.
But the AAUP national office’s staff union, the independent United Staff of the AAUP (US-AAUP), has been without a contract for nearly a year. And that union’s members say AAUP management has been rejecting their demands to provide more equitable benefits to all national staff, including lower-ranking employees, who are more likely to be people of color.
“Many of our affiliates, our chapters, are union,” said Anita Levy, a senior program officer in AAUP’s Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance. “We just affiliated last year with the AFT [American Federation of Teachers], so, personally, I find it kind of shameful that an organization that I’ve worked for, for 20 years, has been so active in opposing, you know, the union’s pretty reasonable proposals. And also to take a position that they are attending to racial equity when, really, what they are doing is seemingly punishing all staff by reducing benefits.”
US-AAUP members are pushing against a management proposal for certain employees to work in the Washington, D.C., office three days a week, and the staff union is demanding a salary step system, which provides more guaranteed pay raises.
They’re also fighting with management over study leave, which members said is essentially a paid six-month sabbatical that only senior program officers can take every six years—a benefit that’s been in place since the 1960s. The union wants all the staff members it represents to be able to take part.
“One of the things that I know attracts prospective employees to AAUP is the study leave that employees can take advantage of, but unfortunately that benefit is not available to associates and assistant-level staff such as myself,” said Remy Tubongbanua, a US-AAUP member and membership database specialist and trainer.
Tubongbanua said if she could take study leave, she would like to take a Salesforce administration class and earn certification in it.
“We need to stop the bleed, because in the past couple of years, we’ve really just lost so many staff,” she said. “And, hopefully, if we are able to work towards an agreement that would help staff see that the organization values us by giving us these kinds of benefits, and help us advance ourselves within the organization, that would be great.”
Mariah Quinn, who’s on the US-AAUP negotiating team and is a digital organizer in the AAUP’s Department of External Relations, said, “We’ve lost a lot of staff—in the last three years, about 50 percent of the bargaining unit.”
Quinn said not all of the departed staff members have been replaced and that there appear to be more consultants filling in. “The loss of a lot of people is the loss of a lot of knowledge,” she said. While the staff union’s contract expired last Oct. 1, she said, negotiations have been going on even longer: more than 400 days.
Staff members said AAUP management was trying to eliminate the sabbaticals entirely. Levy said management was seeking equity in a different way—“lowering the bar rather than making it better for all staff.”
Aaron Nisenson, senior counsel at AAUP and chief negotiator for management, said management had earlier proposed replacing the sabbaticals with “recharge leave available to all staff,” which, unlike the sabbatical, “did not require a work product at the end.”
He said staff would be eligible for a number of weeks every six years “to recharge and re-energize themselves,” and the actual number of weeks is still being negotiated. But he said that maintaining some level of sabbaticals is also now under discussion. Quinn said management recommended the sabbaticals be four months at half pay.
“We approach these negotiations from a racial equity perspective, and we opened up a lot of the distinctions between [administrative and professional] staff such as on sabbaticals,” Nisenson said. He said AAUP management brought that item to the table “because we wanted to see all staff treated equally.”
Asked about the disagreement over required in-office workdays, Nisenson said he didn’t want to get into management’s particular proposals in the negotiations. He did say he’s among a “large percentage” of the staff that works remotely.
Quinn said the staff union’s current proposal is providing the sabbatical to all staff but reducing it to three months, fully paid, in an effort to end the standoff. Nisenson said, “We’re hopeful to have an agreement on sabbaticals that provides equal access to the same benefits for everybody.” Regarding management’s view on the full negotiations, he said, “We think we’re very close, and we’re hopeful that we can wrap this up very soon.”
AAUP members have been signing a petition in support of the staff union’s demands.
Oskar Harmon, a tenured associate professor of economics at the University of Connecticut and treasurer for UConn’s AAUP chapter, said he identifies with the sabbatical fight.
“We do the same thing in academia, and so it’s important, at least for me personally, that my union representatives enjoy the same benefit,” Harmon said.
Michael DeCesare, a staff union member and senior program officer in the AAUP’s Department of Academic Freedom, Tenure and Governance, is currently eligible for the sabbatical. He said it’s one of the reasons he left his tenured professorship at Merrimack College to join the AAUP staff. The Merrimack position gave him sabbaticals in the past, during one of which he was able to write a book, and he thought that going to the AAUP wouldn’t deprive him of that benefit.
“To have that professional development opportunity kind of, you know, threatened, basically for my entire time as a staff member so far, has been to me frankly kind of demoralizing,” DeCesare said. “It does make me second-guess whether I should have taken that leap.”