Faculty contract negotiations to begin soon

The contracts of about 600 Oakland University faculty members are going to expire on Aug. 15. The OU administration and the union that represents the faculty are preparing to negotiate the new contracts so classes in fall can be taught without disruptions.

 The negotiation for the 2009-2012 contracts officially can’t start until May 15, and the two sides are having their first meeting on Tuesday, May 19.

 OU’s chapter of Association of American University Professors represents about 460 full-time and 140 part-time faculty members.

 Mike Latcha, an associate professor of engineering and the chief negotiator of AAUP’s negotiating team, said the team has met with different academic departments to find out their concerns.

 Latcha said that among AAUP members’ concerns, the major ones are: strengthening faculty input, keeping same-sex domestic partnership benefits, making sure the upcoming medical school doesn’t take resources away from other programs, money and health care.

He said that in previous years, most recently in 1994 and 1997, an agreement wasn’t reached in time, so AAUP withheld their services — similar to going on strike but legally different — for a few hours to a couple days. But he said this year, he is “eager to get to the table, get the issues settled and get back to class in fall,” and is cautiously hopeful.

The contracts of the members of three other unions at OU — OU Professional Support Association, OU Campus Maintenance and Trade and Police Officers Association — have expired in 2008. But instead of going on strike, their members have been working based on their old contracts, while their new contracts are being negotiated.

The administration declined to comment, citing policy not to comment on ongoing contract negotiations.

 Latcha said many faculty members wanted the governance process strengthened, meaning they are not happy with how certain administrative decisions don’t take sufficient faculty input.

AAUP filed an Unfair Labor Practice lawsuit in November 2008 for similar reasons. Liz Barclay, professor of management and AAUP’s grievance officer, said they’re still waiting on arbitration on this case.

Faculty members also want to make sure that the benefits of same-sex domestic partners remain, Latcha said.

OU currently gives AAUP members’ same-sex domestic partners the same health care benefits that heterosexual married partners enjoy. But a 2008 Michigan Supreme Court ruling said that a law passed in 2004 makes it unconstitutional for Michigan public institutions, like OU, to give such benefits, after the current contract expires.

 Currently, AAUP is looking to employ the language that colleges like University of Michigan does, something like “an other covered adult” to keep the benefits, Latcha said.

 “Most other schools did this by a blanket provision approved by the board of trustees [and not by changing the contract],” Latcha said. “But we’re not sure if it’ll work here, so [we’re trying to change] the contract.”

 He said faculty members also want to incorporate the upcoming Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine into OU in a way that doesn’t “change the current atmosphere” of OU and the medical school doesn’t take away resources from other programs.

 “In other universities, medical schools often become sinkholes for resources,” Latcha said, saying that other departments have suffered as a result.

 The medical school was announced summer 2008, and is planned to open in 2010. OU spokesperson Ted Montgomery said it’ll be privately funded and not depend on state funding.

“Medical schools, once established, contribute tremendously to the financial well-being of their universities,” he said. “There is an enormous return on investment from a medical school.

Latcha also said another main concern is salary and health care.

 “We absolutely understand the economic situation. We understand education is going to have to lead Michigan out of it,” he said. “We’re looking at economic packages that are fair to the faculty and what OU can afford.”

 Latcha said this year’s negotiation “may be especially challenging because of the economic storm,” but that “we are always hopeful.”

 Barclay said it’s not unusual to reach tentative agreements for minor issues early, but the whole contract often doesn’t get agreed upon until later. She said although negotiations are sometimes theatrical, at OU it’s been mostly calm.

“Usually we think of union and management relations as adversarial because of strikes,” Barclay said. “But that’s not all that labor relations are.”