Administrators and the Faculty Association believe this round of contract negotiations will be a far more positive experience than the last.
In 2011, the FA held multiple protests at the beginning of the fall semester when the two sides could not agree on contract terms. FA president Joshua Smith said collective bargaining will go a lot smoother this time around.
“A lot of folks across campus have been working hard to improve the atmosphere,” he said. “We would like basically for things to be done positively. The name of the game is compromise.”
University President George Ross was approved to begin collective bargaining between the university and three unions at the Feb. 20 board of trustees meeting. Ross will create a negotiations committee to meet with the FA.
The other unions the committee will negotiate contracts with include the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees for service maintenance employees and the Police Officer’s Association of Michigan for police employees.
The existing union contracts expire June 30.
Ross believes the turmoil of the last negotiations won’t be repeated. Communication has grown between the FA and university officials, he said.
“There was frankly some tension (during the) negotiations with the Faculty Association last time,” Ross said after the Feb. 20 meeting. “We believe the environment is much more positive this time. (We have a) commitment on both parts of the Faculty Association and the university so we can have a positive environment. From the administrative standpoint, we are going to improve our communications. I’m looking forward to it.”
Healthcare and insurance were a major focus during the 2011 negotiations. Both parties are unsure of how the Affordable Care Act will affect negotiations. However, Smith is confident the new legislation won’t play a role in this round of talks.
“Most of the things that could cause problems are in 2018,” he said. “It’s unlikely (the ACA will) have any affect until two contracts from now.”
Right to Work legislation has affected some unions around the state, including the Michigan Education Association. Smith said the legislation hasn’t prevented or dissuaded members from supporting the FA.
“The MEA has data on K-12 teachers,” he said. “I believe 99 percent of teachers have remained dues-paying members.”
Smith and the FA have a bargaining team in place and have surveyed their members on the most important topics – and it’s much more than healthcare coverage and pay raises.
“(The contract) lays out what protections (faculty members) have in their day-to-day jobs,” he said. “There’s a lot of things people care about. Our contract sets the calendar for the university. It’s not only things related to pay.”
Ross hopes to have his negotiating team together within the next two weeks.