Unions bargain

Oakland University may have settled their contract disputes with the American Association of University Professors, but they still have two contracts to work out.

Campus Maintenance and Trade and the Professional Support Association have been working on day-to-day extensions of contracts since July of 2008. According to the heads of both unions, which in total represent over 300 university employees, negotiations have been  frustratingly protracted.

“We basically have the same issues at the table that we had four months ago,” said Chris Turkopp, president of OUCMT. “We’ve certainly made some progress in these negotiations, but they have come very slowly.”

For Sandy Gabert, president of OUPSA, the outlook was somewhat more optimistic but claimed details are delaying the settlement.

“We’re still discussing a lot of the same things, but the good news is we have reached some conceptual agreements  on some issues,” Gabert said. “It’s just been a while since we’ve been back at the table, so it’s hard to know what this will look like on paper.”

Unlike members of AAUP, Turkopp and Gabert each said language in their contracts prevents them from legally calling a strike or any similar work stoppage.

 “We don’t have the clout the professors had,” Gabert said.

Turkopp said that if the unions were to strike, OU would have the authority to lock them out of negotiations and prevent them from returning to work.

Turkopp and Gabert said they supported the professors “100 percent” during their highly publicized labor dispute.


Turkopp said he made a point out of visiting the various stations on campus where professors were picketing to describe OUCMT’s status.

 “The professors brought a lot of these issues to the public,” Turkopp said. “Large salary increases for a few high-ranking people in the administration. The faculty, to a person, was very supportive of us when I described our situation to them, and they said they would do whatever they needed to do to see that we were treated fairly. I told them, ‘You couldn’t help us out any more than you are right now.'”

Neither OU nor the unions went into great detail discussing the specifics of the negotiations, but Turkopp and Gabert did list some issues at play. The most pressing issues include: wages, medical benefits and career enhancement opportunities.

 Turkopp said a drop in benefits could make OU a less attractive employer.

 “It used be accepted that when you came to work at Oakland University, you could have a lower salary than you could in the private sector, but the benefits were phenomenal,” Turkopp said. “Now… who knows what’s going to happen?”

While OU’s negotiating team declined to speak on the record, they did clarify a claim earlier made by AAUP and restated by the unions that the university had outstanding credit, and could easily afford to increase the workers’ salaries and benefits.

John Beaghan, assistant vice president of finance, said that a number of people confused the Allied Irish Bank rating for the $52 million in bonds issued to the university in 2008 with OU’s overall credit rating, which is listed by Moody’s as A2, five tiers below the highest credit level, AAA.  AAUP President Joel Russell has acknowledged this mistake.