March 19, 2013

UMaine system, faculty union seek contract intervention

After two years of failed talks, the union wants arbitration and the school has filed a work stoppage complaint.

BY SUSAN MCMILLAN Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA – The University of Maine System and the union representing faculty members are requesting intervention in their two-year-old contract negotiations.

The Associated Faculty of the University of Maine is requesting arbitration with the Maine Labor Relations Board, while the university system has filed a complaint with the board alleging that some faculty members are engaged in an illegal work stoppage.

Because of disagreements about salaries and other issues, about 1,200 faculty members represented by the union have been working without a contract since July 2011.

As a pressure tactic, some faculty members at the seven universities are "working to rule," which means they are refusing to participate in program reviews, committee work and other tasks the union says are voluntary.

The university system's complaint claims the job duties are required by contract. Union President Ronald Mosley, a professor at the University of Maine at Machias, said unhappy employees are less willing to volunteer, and work-to-rule is a demonstration protected by the First Amendment.

"The board of trustees are very insulated from the faculties," Mosley said. "So we're hoping that university administrators will communicate support for our position and communicate to the trustees that they need to settle this."

Union chapters for all seven Maine universities within the system have endorsed work-to-rule on a voluntary basis, beginning with the University of Maine at Farmington last spring.

The University of Maine at Augusta faculty was the last to take a vote and did so a few weeks ago, said Ken Elliott, chapter president and a psychology professor. Elliott said he has not heard of UMA faculty members refusing a task based on work-to-rule. "I think work-to-rule means different things to different people," Elliott said. "I think what's really clear is that the faculty would like to see the two sides find the common ground."

Maine law prohibits public sector workers from engaging in a strike, slowdown or stoppage. The university system's prohibited practice complaint, filed March 8 with the Maine Labor Relations Board, argues that faculty members are refusing to perform required job duties established through the contract, other negotiations or past practice.

Examples given in the complaint include admissions committee decisions, review of degree programs, personnel reviews and participation in department faculty meetings when an administrator is present.

Work-to-rule is having different effects across campuses and even across departments, said Tracy Bigney, the system's chief human resources officer.

"In some places, I would say there's little or no impact, because faculty have not taken any specific actions or failed to perform any specific responsibilities," Bigney said. "In other areas, there is either work that is not getting done or that other people are finding other ways to accomplish."

The complaint asks the Maine Labor Relations Board to find that the faculty union and members are violating the law and order them to stop. "That process will take some time, but we hope that it will bring some clarity to the situation so that we and the faculty can move forward," Bigney said.

Mosley said faculty members are trying not to harm students or the research and scholarly work happening at the universities. He said work-to-rule is having its desired effect. "That's what precipitated this complaint" by the university system, he said. "We really view it as an attempt to intimidate faculty members to abandon work-to-rule."

The university system and the union began negotiations almost two years ago. They went before a fact-finding panel last year to seek recommendations about 10 areas of disagreement.

The union had requested a 4 percent increase in the base salary for each year of a two-year contract. The university system has offered a base salary increase of 0.5 percent for each of the two years.

Susan McMillan can be contacted at 621-5645 or at:

smcmillan@mainetoday.com

 

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