Bargaining Update from Feb. 21

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The bargaining session originally scheduled for Feb. 28th has been canceled due to a family emergency within the bargaining team. Therefore, the next scheduled session is March 14th at 3:30 in Lillis 112.

Below is a summary of the bargaining session that occurred on Feb. 21, 2014 as put together by members of the bargaining committee.

 

GTFF Bargaining Summary and Look Ahead – February 26th, 2014 

We can roughly split the bargaining session that took place on Friday, February 21st into 3 segments—the University’s article counter-proposals, an exchange by both parties regarding the University’s finances, and a final weird assault by the University on the legitimacy of the healthcare trust. Each segment saw a more heated table environment than in previous weeks—with mention of the children of bargaining team members at the start of the session, then a quick and cordial tentative agreement (TA) upon an article discussed last week, and finally ending with steely glares.

 

The Articles

Right at the outset of the session things were looking up. The GTFF and the university TA’ed Article 4—“Union Dues, Deductions and Fair-Share Members.” The evolution of this article was a prime example of how smoothly bargaining can operate. The University proposed a change (they wanted to approve some union dues forms), the union accepted the idea of the change and suggested modifications to reflect their concerns (only give the University input to the sections of dues forms that deal with pay rates to verify the forms are worded appropriately but the union holds final say in creating the form), the University listened to the unions input, accepted them but suggested a few tweaks to ensure the new language would be feasible within the University system (adjusted the timeframe for changing dues rates to give payroll time to implement the change), and finally the GTFF agreed to the changes and the article was TA’ed. The system can work so long as both sides are operating in good faith and listen to what the other side is saying.

Article 10, “Work Environment,” is also getting closer to being done. The university accepted many changes the union proposed last week and presented some changes to their kitchen access and workplace safety proposals to try to meet some of the GTFFs concerns with their prior proposals. In what is now a very clear theme of bargaining, the GTFF did not think the University’s language was explicit enough, but rather left too much room for interpretation. The University’s language for kitchen access only gives GTFs an explicit right to request kitchen access if they don’t have it, it doesn’t guarantee the University will actually do anything in response to such requests. The University also completely refused our request that the University guarantee a safe working environment in all locations a GTF is required to do University work (not just work on University property), hiding behind a claim that the GTFF was asking the University to impose itself on private enterprises to change their own policies to meet the needs of GTFs. The University suggested a protocol for GTFs to report unsafe conditions and allow the University to investigate the unsafe claim before making alterations to the work duties for that location, but explicitly left this protocol out of their language. The GTFF wants to see these kinds of things in writing if the University is trying to work with us towards an agreement. We cannot rely on the stated good intentions of the University’s bargaining team alone. Only having explicit language in the contract guarantees GTFs protections into the future.

The University dropped its alterations to Article 11, “University Handling of GTF Personnel Files,” deciding to leave the language as it is currently written after listening to the GTFs concerns about their changes. The University also dropped its changes to Article 34 in which they had requested to be explicitly allowed to ask GTFs to cover the work duties of striking workers from other unions on campus. In no uncertain terms, the GTFF had continually declined to accept the request. The University felt the two sides were too far apart to make serious progress without leading to frustration for both sides, making bargaining counter productive. The GTFF was thrilled to see the University acknowledge and understand our displeasure with the proposed changes to these two articles.

Article 13, “Grievances,” looks to be pretty close to being done as the University only offered small changes to its language to appease GTFF concerns from the prior session. The debate on Article 16, “Discipline and Discharge,” was complicated. The University wanted the ability to deny the ability of the GTFF to move directly to a step three grievance for certain disciplinary actions, and there remain open questions about laws associated with public records keeping and changes that could happen under the upcoming change to the University governance structure. After much pressing by our bargaining team, both of these discussions seemed to boil down to the University wanting changes out of convenience to them and not necessarily actual problems that have arisen or are expected to arise.

A final article discussed was Article 31. This article deals with the ratification procedure for the collective bargaining agreement. The University proposed that the president would be the person ratifying the collective bargaining agreement on behalf of the University, but as the president must answer to the board of trustees, the union feels that the board should ratify the CBA, as has been the case in the past. All other known graduate employee union contracts are ratified in this way, the GTFF is interested to keep the chain of authority as it actually is reflected in the contract.

 

University Finances

The University provided a quick overview of its finances. These were put together by the University’s VP of Finance and Administration and CFO Jamie Moffitt, whom we believed would be present to answer questions for us, but was in fact not present at the session. The University’s presentation went as follows: the figures they provide showed the University running a projected deficit of 6.3 million dollars for the 2015 financial year. This figure includes a projected 9.5 million dollars that would be left over from the 2014 financial year, so the real deficit for 2015FY is nearly 16 million dollars. That figure did not include any increased costs that resulted from GTFF bargaining, nor does it include potential increases in out-of-state undergrad tuition. Just to cover the 6.3 million dollar deficit, or so their reasoning was, the University would have to raise out-of-state tuition by between 3 and 3.5 percent (they are legally barred from increasing in-state tuition). Giving a lot of financial resources to GTFs under the new CBA, they claim, would require raising this tuition rate even more.  

 There are a large number of problems with the scenario laid out by the University, some of which follow. 
  • The University focused just on “E&G” funds (education and general funds) because these are the funds that they claim pay for a large majority of GTFs. Cherry-picking funds to make your case never looks good to anyone but your own supporters and we are sure the University could ear-mark funds from other places to help out GTFs if they so desired. These funds do not reflect the University’s overall sources of income or expenditures, which are much larger.
  • As stated directly by the University, these figures for the deficit are incremental. That means, the numbers they provide are a year-to-year comparison. So, that “lost” 16 million dollars really means the University expects to make a profit of 16 million dollars less than the year before. Well, that leads to the obvious question of what kind of profit did the University make in the previous year? The University didn’t say, but they did give us those figures if you dig into their data. The E&G funds for the 2014FY took in 442 million dollars and spent 415 million. So, they made a profit of 27 million dollars. Then for 2015FY, they only expect to turn a profit of 11 million dollars. Boohoo.
  • Concluding that the only way to pay for GTFF bargaining requests is to raise out of state tuition rates is unfair.  Money comes into their E&G funds pool and money leaves their E&G fund pool. You cannot draw distinct lines between one expense and one funding source. There are lots of places where expenses rose (we’ll get to some of those shortly), and you cannot place sole blame on one source.
  • Over the past 2 academic years out-of-state tuition increased by 3.5%, the year before that it was 7.5%, then 9.9%, then 23% [1]! The out-of-state tuition has grown by crazy amounts each year. The GTFF did not cause those increases in the past, and neither we nor any other campus employee group can be blamed for them in the future.

The overall presentation of the University’s financials was disappointing. They gave us very few figures and further probing by the GTFF was often met with “we don’t know, we’ll look into it.” We were hoping that Jamie Moffitt would be present to answer some of these questions herself (for if anyone knows the answers to GTFF questions, it should be here) but she was not at the meeting. Limiting the finances to just the E&G funds (and especially just to the incremental, or year-to-year, changes in these funds) does not give us a complete picture of the financial health of the University. In fact, the University is very well off financially. The University’s own figures report a University-wide balance of 118 million dollars in unrestricted funds at the end of the 2014AY. That’s an increase of 12.5% over the past financial year. The University whined that this was only enough money to run the University for 66 days. That argument isn’t going to find much sympathy in a group of people who the university doesn’t pay enough to make it through more than 24 days of the month. New expenses associated with the GTFF are dwarfed in comparison to the University’s budget. To make sure the University understood this, we did provide them with many of our own figures. We even found some places in their budget where they could reprioritize current spending trends.

We estimate that raising all GTFs to a new minimum rate that is 6.1% higher than the prior minimum would cost the university just 316 thousand dollars a year. Major dental coverage is estimated to be 375 thousand dollars a year. Parental leave, about 125 thousand. Those are our 3 top bargaining priorities and they do not even total 1 million dollars. Where could that money come from? Well, the president’s office paid 375 thousand dollars a year for a skybox at Ducks football games between 2009 and 2011 [2]. Who would have thought tickets to 6 or 7 football games for the President and his buddies could instead give major dental coverage to 1400 graduate students? The president’s office also increased its unrestricted gifts and royalties to athletics by over 1.2 million dollars between 2012 and 2013 (and there was an increase of 700 thousand dollars between 2011 and 2012-overall the president’s office gave nearly 2 million dollars more a year to athletics in 2013 than they did in 2010 or 2011) [3]. Where did this money go? The University’s bargaining team couldn’t tell us, but we do know that these funds would cover all three of the GTF proposals listed above and more so. The University pays 2 million dollars a year to run the Jaqua Center, an unknown amount of which comes from academics [4]. This apparently remains unknown, because when we asked the University’s bargaining team, they didn’t know either. The President’s office more than doubled their spending on General Counsel between 2012 and 2013 [3], increasing that spending line to 2.75 million dollars, all but $402 of which came out of University General Funds. Why the sudden need for twice as many lawyers? Could it be for hiring outside lawyers to fight the GTFF and UA at the bargaining table?

 

The Trust

Finally, the University made a grand statement on the trust. They acknowledge the autonomy of the trust nominally and yet directly attack it. The made 2 points: a claimed 41% rise in cost to the University for the healthcare trust over the past 2 financial years and a perceived inability of the trust to control the premium costs of our healthcare. Again, in keeping with tradition, when the GTFF asked for how the University arrived at their figures, the University was unable to provide information. The GTFF does not feel this is a fair assessment of the price of the trust for a number of reasons. The price increases they claim over the past two years sit far above price fluctuations we’ve experienced in the past, either signaling that the large price jump is an anomaly that shouldn’t be used to make large changes to the trust’s functioning or that the calculations were made unfairly. We also suspect that their calculation includes a one-time price increase that was agreed to by the University during the last bargaining cycle. A final, heated point made by the University on health care referred to current CBA language that called on the GTFF to encourage the trust to try to keep premium price increases under 10% every year when feasible. The GTFF has absolutely done this. Clearly, further time at the table is needed to clarify these issues, and further information from the University is needed to support their claims.

 

Conclusion 

We are happy to see movement on some issues of concern to us. We are thrilled to see the University take some of our concerns seriously and adjust their proposals accordingly, but we have still much further to go on others issues. As a start, it would be very helpful to us if the University would supply us with more information about financial issues than they have. We have tried to make all our financial estimations transparent and available to the University, while they have mostly read numbers at us with very little analysis, explanation, or sources for their information. And often those numbers are so clearly skewed in a way to say what the University wants them to say they are useless for serious debate. We hope to see these tides change and the University be more open about their finances so we can work with them to create a collective bargaining agreement that meets the needs of both sides.  And as always, thank you to all the GTFs, members of UA and SEIU, and members of other labor organizations and of the public who came to bargaining to support us.