According to EWU English professor Dr. Anthony Flinn, negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement had been going on since June, “many months longer than they had to have had.”
Ronald H. Dalla, interim provost and vice president of Academic Affairs said, “It has been a long time for many different reasons- But the progress has really picked up recently.”
Some of the progress made in the negotiations has been due to the fact “that early in the quarter the administration hired a new lead bargaining attorney,” said Flinn. The United Faculty of Eastern is “delighted that the administration moved from the first person of choice to this one.” Flinn said the new attorney is very calm, civil, professional and easy to work with.
Dalla said that the negotiating teams “worked extensively on the part of the contract that dealt with various aspects of faculty rank, what that means and the processes for promotion, tenure and retention.”
Yet, a complete agreement on these topics has not yet been reached.
He also said that it was encouraging to see some “give and take” from both sides. “It wasn’t just one side saying, ‘well no, we will not go any further,’- We had a really good back and forth, give and take. As far as the faculty and the administration working together, it was very encouraging and it was very congenial.”
Some concerns were raised during the faculty forums about the state of bargaining, Feb. 21 and 22. The first forum took place at the Cheney campus and around 60 to 65 people attended. The second took place at the Riverpoint campus and approximately 20 to 25 were in attendance. During these forums, faculty were given cards on which they were able to write their concerns. Flinn said many of the concerns had to do with salary and workload.
From a list of approximately 10 to 15 peer schools, Flinn said that EWU was second from the bottom in terms of salary. “The faculty naturally feels that this cheapens the administration’s sense of us but also we feel [this] is a questionable response to the students about how valuable they feel their learning experience is and one of our deepest concerns is that younger faculty are coming, staying a couple years and leaving because they can get more highly-paid jobs elsewhere.”
He also said that although “naturally no one is in this for the money,” EWU is far below the mean salary for comparable universities across the country. “Far from that, we are short-changed with the raises and pay increases that administrators, especially senior administrators, have received over the past four years as opposed to what faculty have.”
Dalla said that the administration did “agree that necessarily happen all at once due to “a limit as to how much money is available at a given time for the institution to provide for salaries.” He said that the goal is a gradual increase in faculty salaries over time in order to be more competitive with peer institutions.
Lower salaries than the mean, which contribute to difficulties in hiring and retaining faculty, create problems for students too, said Flinn. Students have seen an increase in tuition.
Yet, due to crowded classes and waiting lists, their education experience has not necessarily improved with the increase.
Another issue Flinn talked about was workload. “We have this grand document, called the Academic Strategic Plan-. And over the years it has been developed in cooperation of Academic Affairs and the administration and the faculty. It…calls for faculty to do more research, to engage their students in more research and to be more engaged in general in the community to such initiatives as service learning, as well as to perform more and clearer assessment of student learning.”
The increased implementation of the Academic Strategic Plan will require more work from faculty in areas other than teaching. According to Flinn, in order for faculty to be credible in their profession they have to be contributing to it through research and scholarship. If you teach class after class it is very difficult to make time for research. “Our students need attention, and the best way the students can get the attention they need is to make sure that our workload is comparable to what we need to be able to do to pursue work in our discipline.”
Dalla said that there had to be a balance between research and scholarly activity, service and the faculty’s teaching responsibilities. Teaching, research and service activities are important so the negotiating teams have to find “what the balance should be between those three areas.”
He also said that any “agreement should recognize the fact that the primary objective is to educate the students.” Part of that has to do with faculty having the opportunity to stay professionally updated.
In addition to having an agreement that is fair to both faculty and the administration, another objective, according to Dalla, is to implement the strategic plan that has been approved by the university. “Our goal is to, as the administration, implement that plan forward.”
Besides salary and workload, Flinn said that the union also had concerns about other “elements being slipped into the collective bargaining agreement, such as a confidentiality agreement and conflict of interest” with faculty positions at Eastern and their work elsewhere.
Flinn said that faculty is very sensitive to confidentiality, especially when it comes to student records and with conflicts of interest. However, the documents that the faculty bargaining team has been presented so far “look more like an opportunity-to discipline faculty who may seem disruptive or outspoken- In other words, it is an effort to make the place more on a corporate model than on a university model, where employees are monitored and maintained, and managed and controlled rather than a true university environment that demands free inquiry.”
“Otherwise the negotiations have been amicable, professional, and both sides are working on the common ground of what is best for students,” said Flinn. “We are very eager for our new president, Dr. Arevalo, to come and have a collective bargaining agreement all signed and ratified and ready to go. That is our wish and I know very much that the administration feels that pressure to conclude. And we want it simply as a gift to our new president who deserves all our support.”
Dalla said that this is the third time a collective bargaining agreement has been negotiated at Eastern. According to him, it has probably taken longer than last time because the bargaining teams “are looking at everything” as opposed to negotiations in the past in which that wasn’t the case.
He does believe it is possible to be done by March, though. “We had what I would classify as three very productive days last week, bargaining from late afternoon into the evening with the faculty. We are going to be bargaining this coming Saturday.” Bargaining will take place five more days throughout the month. “So it was very encouraging; we are moving along.”