OU AAUP accuse university of bad-faith bargaining, demand response from administration

A+view+of+OU+AAUP+supporters+picketing+during+the+job+action+that+disrupted+the+start+of+the+fall+semester.+Last+summers+heated+contract+negotiations+continue+to+have+an+impact+on+the+university%2C+as+the+faculty+union+now+accuses+the+university+of+bad-faith+bargaining.

Sophie Hume

A view of OU AAUP supporters picketing during the job action that disrupted the start of the fall semester. Last summer’s heated contract negotiations continue to have an impact on the university, as the faculty union now accuses the university of bad-faith bargaining.

Jeff Thomas, Editor-in-Chief

In the latest development of the continued fallout from 2021’s faculty contract negotiations, leadership from Oakland University’s Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (OU AAUP) have obtained information via a recent FOIA request that they say provides clear evidence of bad-faith bargaining on the part of the university during negotiations.

In a letter sent to President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz and members of the Board of Trustees earlier this week, OU AAUP President and Associate Professor of History Karen Miller outlined how members of the university’s bargaining team, and Interim Vice President of Finance and Administration James Haggert specifically, withheld pertinent information regarding healthcare costs from the OU AAUP bargaining team during contract negotiations.

In light of these revelations, Miller calls for an investigation and accountability in the letter saying, “These actions constitute bad faith bargaining, violating the Faculty Agreement as well as both the National Labor Relations Act and the Michigan Public Employment Relations Act. In an ethical and transparent organization, this type of behavior would result in employee termination. James Hargett, whose role in these actions has been clearly demonstrated, and any others found complicit, should not be allowed to continue in any capacity at Oakland University.”

The letter is presented in its entirety in italics below.

“Dr. Ora Pescovitz and Trustees, 

In executing a Freedom of Information Act request regarding the preliminary and final health insurance rates from Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Blue Care Network and Priority Health for Oakland University, the AAUP has determined that Oakland University’s 2021 Bargaining Team violated the Faculty Agreement and controverted federal and state law by refusing to furnish information requested by the AAUP relevant to the bargaining process. This refusal constitutes a failure to engage in good faith bargaining. 

On January 5th, 2021, AAUP Lead Negotiator, Douglas Wendell, emailed a memorandum to Joi Cunningham, who then held the title of Assistant Vice President of Academic Human Resources and was eventually named as a member of Oakland’s 2021 bargaining team; she has since been promoted to Vice President of Human Resources. The memorandum outlined the AAUP’s initial request for information regarding upcoming contract negotiations. Requests for information regarding health insurance quotes and rates are made painstakingly clear: 

  1. The following information is requested concerning the health care options available to faculty. In addition, we will, of course, need Oakland to request quotes as needed for various options from our current providers during the course of bargaining so that we can engage in meaningful discussions. 
  • While the AAUP understands that Oakland does not control how or when this data is delivered, we are requesting that as you ask for health insurance information you impress upon the consultants and insurance providers that only accurate information delivered quickly is of use to either of us. In addition, we cannot impress upon you more emphatically that sharing this information with us as soon as you receive it will be key to being able to consider and act upon it in a timely manner. 
  • We insist that all information requested in order to bargain, especially that information that pertains to health care benefits, be provided as part of the bargaining process through Academic Human Services. We will not be referred to other University departments or committees to obtain information that is vital to bargain and or make informed decisions. 
  • We are sure that you can understand that the AAUP team cannot explore any health care coverage changes or options without complete disclosure of all relevant information. 

No results regarding 2022 health insurance quotes and rates were provided in early information sharing from Oakland, received both in February and April, as it was still too early in the year for preliminary rates to be available, but the mandate for future information sharing is explicit: “we cannot impress upon you more emphatically that sharing this information with us as soon as you receive it will be key to being able to consider and act upon it in a timely manner”. Over the course of several bargaining sessions in August and early September, the AAUP’s team repeatedly asked for updates on both preliminary and final 2022 health insurance premium rates. Oakland never provided any information about preliminary or final 2022 health insurance premium rates throughout the entire course of negotiations. Instead Oakland informed the AAUP that such numbers were not yet available. 

We now have incontrovertible evidence that those numbers were available to Oakland and that members of Oakland’s bargaining team, namely James Hargett, had specific knowledge of those numbers during the course of negotiations. 

On August 18th, 2021, Alan de la Vega, representing Marsh & McLennan Agency, the agency tasked with negotiating health insurance rates with carriers on Oakland’s behalf, emailed an attachment of the 2022 Renewal Report to Oakland administrators including Eric Herppich, Corey Brittingham and Monica Haines. Preliminary Priority Health rates were included in that report among many other pieces of information regarding 2022 rates. A meeting between MMA and Oakland took place on August 19th, 2021 in order to review the report. 

On August 18th, 2021, James Hargett emailed Eric Herppich the following, “Where are we with the new health insurance rates for 2022? We usually have something by now even if it is not final rates”. Mr. Herppich’s response on the same day states: “Priority’s prelim rates are 7%, still waiting on BC”. 

On August 20th, 2021, Mr. Herppich shared the following message with Mr. Hargett, including an attachment titled “081921 2021-2022 Rates and Contributions for OU”.

The email states: “Here are current and prelim 2022 rates. MMA will continue to negotiate rates…Priority, which is the benchmark, is at a 6.9% bump as of today”. Mr. Hargett’s response on that same day indicates his receipt of the information and shows he had knowledge of both BCBS/BCN and Priority Health preliminary rates. His response reads, in part, “BCN up 15.4%, if that holds, They will not keep too many folks in that plan”. 

On August 31st, 2021, Eric Herppich sent an email to Michele Knox and James Hargett that reads: “Rates for 2022 as of now, Priority will not be reducing their rates for 2022 any further. Still waiting to hear from BCBS.” Attached to the email is a spreadsheet named: “081921 2021-2022 Rates and Contributions for OU” which contains specifics on insurance rates. On that same day, James Hargett confirmed receipt of the information in an email to Eric Herppich that stated:Thanks for the update”. 

These email exchanges clearly show not only was Oakland fully aware of the requirements regarding information that needed to be shared for the 2021 negotiations; they further show that Oakland had in its possession 2022 preliminary rates for both BCBS/BCN and Priority Health during the course of negotiations which did not end until a Tentative Agreement was signed by the two parties on September 4th, 2021. Moreover, these email exchanges show that James Hargett, current Interim Vice President of Finance for Oakland University, knew of the rates and deliberately withheld that information from the AAUP. These actions constitute bad faith bargaining, violating the Faculty Agreement as well as both the National Labor Relations Act and the Michigan Public Employment Relations Act. In an ethical and transparent organization, this type of behavior would result in employee termination. James Hargett, whose role in these actions has been clearly demonstrated, and any others found complicit, should not be allowed to continue in any capacity at Oakland University. Furthermore, Oakland must commence a thorough investigation of its behavior during the course of the 2021 negotiations with the AAUP, make those findings publicly known, and take any and all necessary steps to ensure such actions are not repeated in future negotiations with the AAUP or any other collective bargaining agency on its campus. 

Sincerely, 

Karen AJ Miller

If proven true, these allegations suggest that the current faculty contract agreement was reached under false pretenses as the university withheld information concerning healthcare from OU AAUP faculty.

The letter was made known to all OU AAUP early Friday morning, when it was sent attached to an email that read:

“Greetings Members,

On November 3, 2021, the AAUP sent a FOIA to Oakland University requesting information regarding Oakland communications on the subject of 2022 health insurance premium rates. The documents received from Oakland as a result of the FOIA request provide clear evidence of bad faith bargaining on the part of Oakland during its 2021 contract negotiations with the AAUP.  Earlier this week, the AAUP sent a letter to President Pescovitz and the Board of Trustees asking for appropriate actions to be taken in light of these revelations. Today we share that letter (attached below) with our members.  

It is our hope that Oakland will act in good faith regarding the information presented to them. Appropriate actions now open the door for more civil and productive future negotiations which can only benefit the entire OU community.”

The Post has reached out to the administration and OU AAUP leadership for more information and will be following up on this story.