Contract conflict over, for now

Without a contract since June of 2003, the part-time faculty at PSU, represented by the Portland State University Faculty Association (PSUFA) will soon vote on their new contract. The proposed contract, which still needs approval by the PSUFA membership and State Board of Higher Education, will remain binding until 2005, when the contract will be renegotiated.

The administration and the PSUFA compromised over job security and economic issues, respectively. “This has been a long process and it was wonderful that we had a lot of members coming forth and speaking to the negotiations team, they made a difference … the stories of adjuncts (part time professors) touched the PSU team on a human level,” Brook Jacobson, the PSUFA president and member of the bargaining team said.

Michael Driscoll, the vice provost of academic personnel and budget sat on the administrations bargaining team. “The university really appreciates the approach and process the PSUFA has brought to the table their collegial attitude. We really appreciate that,” Driscoll said.

Giving into the demands of the PSUFA, the administration folded on some issues of job security.

As a result of the proposed contract a pilot project will be implemented in two departments “that will try to create the optimum mode for hiring and working with adjuncts, so that they feel more connected,” Jacobson said.

Citing the hiring process as a key concern of the university, Driscoll hopes that “everyone is open about the hiring process and aware of how that happens…we will spend time looking at and piloting ways to look at the hiring process for faculty and PSUFA.”

Obtaining an orientation plan for newly hired adjuncts was a major achievement, Jacobson said. There will be orientation sessions at the beginning of each term for adjunct faculty, scheduled by human resources according to Jacobson. “Departments will let adjuncts know of the resources available and will work with human resources to that end,” Driscoll said.

“We hope that the orientation plan is going to help incoming and existing adjuncts be more aware there is a union and they have certain rights, such as office space and a phone,” Jacobson said.

Clarification on language around multiple term contracts was also obtained, according to Jacobson. Previously, many adjuncts didn’t know when classes would be scheduled or by whom. The previous contract states that “prior to the end of each academic year and whom the university is willing to consider for re-employment the following academic year will be surveyed by departments to determine if they wish to teach in the new academic year; and, if so, which and how many courses they can teach and at what times they will be able to teach.”

In re-appointing an adjunct, the university will now send out a general email announcement during the winter term to adjuncts concerning re-appointment. The adjuncts can then let their department chairs know what they are interested in teaching in the coming year and when, Jacobson said.

Although no gains were made in pay increase, some economic gains were achieved. “There is a little more money in the professional development and health fund,” Jacobson said. In the previous contract, $12,500 was available every year for the professional development of adjuncts at

PSU. In the health insurance fund, $54,625 was available “to provide health insurance to members of the bargaining unit who have no insurance plan available to them through another source,” as stated by the previous contract. The amount of increased money going into these two funds for the over 600 adjunct faculty on campus was unavailable, due to the proposed contract not yet being ratified.

“There was no structural change in the health fund, we still can’t pay into the Public Employees Benefit Board (PEBD) which negotiates for all public employees,” Jacobson said. “PSU has a good group plan coverage as opposed to individual coverage” PSUFA members receive.

The government and legislature don’t want to see any increase in state workers salaries, Driscoll said.

In response to how Jacobson thought the negotiations went, she said, “I think every time we go through this we make small gains.” During the last round of negotiations in 2001 she thought more monetary gains were made. During this round of negotiations, “gains more useful in terms of tightening contract language and making it clear to departments the kinds of working conditions adjuncts should have in order to develop the quality of education adjuncts are expected of” were achieved, Jacobson said.

When asked whether monetary gains would be made during the next round of negotiations in 2005, Driscoll said he was unsure about the financial flexibility of the university and where it will be financially in 2005.

Speaking to the current economic condition of the university, Jacobson said that “if Measure 30 doesn’t pass, the school is going to be in very serious trouble.”