Oakland University and the faculty union Oakland University’s Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (OU AAUP) have both filed Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charges against each other in the past month.
Both charges relate to 2021’s faculty contract negotiations, with OU AAUP accusing the university of bad-faith bargaining and the university accusing OU AAUP of initiating an illegal strike at the beginning of the fall semester.
OU AAUP filed their charge in February after a FOIA request revealed information that they say proves the university bargained in bad faith by withholding information about healthcare costs during last summer’s faculty contract negotiations, allegations the university denied.
OU AAUP leadership made their accusations of bad-faith bargaining clear in a letter to President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz and the Board of Trustees in early January and then awaited a response from the university. When that response did not come, the union decided they had no option but to take their claims to the courts.
“I can’t say that there was an expectation of a response, but people, including me, thought that there would be some kind of private, or if not private, at least email or letter exchange over these issues, and we didn’t hear anything from the administration,” OU AAUP President Karen Miller said. “… The only legal recourse at that point we had was a ULP because contract negotiations were over. Our position on our ULP is that we asked for [the information about healthcare costs] across the table … previous filings demonstrate that we were within the right to ask for that and to have an expectation that it would be delivered, and it wasn’t.”
The university filed their ULP against OU AAUP on Wednesday, March 2. The charge alleges that the faculty violated the Public Employment Relations Act (PERA) with their work stoppage at the beginning of September. OU Director of Media Relations Brian Bierley supplied The Post with the following from the university statement on the matter:
“Oakland alleges in the OU ULP that the AAUP initiated an illegal strike in September, 2021, for the purpose of inducing, influencing and coercing a change in employment conditions, compensation and the rights, privileges and obligations of employment. In addition, Oakland alleges that the strike took place before alternative avenues to reach an agreement, including fact finding, were exhausted as required by law.
Oakland is asking the Commission to find the AAUP in violation of the Michigan Public Employment Relations Act and to order it to cease and desist from future violations.
The OU ULP was filed following the AAUP’s filing of an Unfair Labor Practice Charge against Oakland (“AAUP ULP”) alleging that Oakland failed to provide information to the AAUP during bargaining. Oakland denies the AAUP’s allegations.
Once the AAUP elected to file the AAUP ULP, it became important for Oakland to file the OU ULP to preserve all of the issues relating to the 2021 negotiations, ensure that the Commission has access to all of the relevant facts and applicable law (including the AAUP’s illegal strike activity), allow Oakland to fully defend itself against the AAUP’s allegations, and make certain that all of the potential issues relating to the 2021 negotiations are resolved.
‘Oakland University negotiated in good faith with the AAUP at all times during the 2021 collective bargaining process, as it does in all negotiations with every bargaining unit on campus,’ said university spokesperson Brian Bierley. Notwithstanding the OU ULP and the AAUP ULP, ‘the administration’s goal is always to work productively and collaboratively with the faculty to maximize student success and faculty excellence.’”
News of the university’s ULP charge has not been well received by faculty, with the timing of the university’s ULP seeming particularly dubious to some.
“Many people who advise me from the faculty have used both the terms intimidation, and retaliation,” Miller said. “[OU AAUP] were slow to move as we saw [evidence of bad-faith bargaining], we did not rush out and do a ULP. We actually wanted to digest it to make sure that what we thought was correct, and [that the charge was filed] on the basis of newer information, that we didn’t know back in September. Everything [the university] cite in their document is information that was all public … So it’s the fact that the timing of this is days after we file [our ULP], I think lends a certain suspicion to it … As a labor leader, I would think … They want us to be afraid.”
Laws in Michigan dictate that ULP charges must be filed within six months of any alleged incident. While there is some dispute by OU AAUP about the days and whether the university met their deadline, the university appears to have filed their ULP on the last day they could have done so.
To the best knowledge of OU AAUP’s current leadership, it is unprecedented in OU history for the university to file charges against faculty for work stoppages related to contract negotiations.
OU AAUP Executive Director Amy Pollard released the following statement regarding the university’s ULP charge to faculty members in an email Monday morning.
“Last week, Oakland University filed an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge against the AAUP alleging that the September 2021 work stoppage violated the Public Employment Relations Act (PERA). The complaint alleges that the AAUP acted ‘prior to the exhaustion of the full scope of statutory impasse resolution mechanisms available to parties under PERA and the Labor Mediation Act; specifically mediation and fact finding.’ (See attached ULP filing).
This complaint comes on the heels of the AAUP’s ULP charge against Oakland filed last month (attached below). While the AAUP’s ULP charge was filed as a result of new information regarding 2022 health insurance rate information discovered through FOIA requests, Oakland’s ULP charge appears based on no new information and could have been filed at any point over the last six months. As a result, Oakland’s ULP seems clearly retaliatory in nature.
We are disappointed Oakland has chosen this course of action. President Pescovitz’s message in the 2021 State of the University address, ‘let the healing begin’ feels false given Oakland’s conduct. The AAUP remains committed to ensuring fair and equitable negotiations, regardless of hostile attempts to challenge or punish us for doing so.”
While judges have not been appointed and court dates have not been set at this point, it is likely that these cases will unfold in the courts this summer.
OU AAUP did file another ULP charge against the university in September for what they saw as the university’s unwillingness to bargain the effect of OU’s vaccine mandate. That case was settled out of court in October.
“When the university announced that there would be a vaccine mandate, there was not a real clear sense of what would happen to the minority of people who did not do the vaccine mandate,” Miller said. “… [After filing our ULP we received] a letter of agreement that established that process. And that process seems to have been put into effect smoothly, we have not had any complaints.”
The current ULP charges are likely to have an adverse impact on the already-strained relationship between OU AAUP faculty and the upper administration. Last month there was an announcement of the Faculty Board Liaison Task Force (FBLTF) to foster better relations between the two sides. That group is apparently scheduled to have their first meeting on April 11.
“Hopefully [the FBLTF meeting] will be wonderful and the clouds from our unhappy lives will be lifted,” Miller said. “And we can go on to be a mature and responsible institution dedicated to the education of Michigan’s public.”