PSU Professors negotiate contracts

As the university and the American Association of University Professors embarks on new contract negotiations, they have decided to employ a new technique called collaborative bargaining.

Traditionally, positional bargaining, where both sides present their terms and the university either accepts or rejects the proposal, is used.

According to Martha Hickey, vice president for collective bargaining, positional bargaining can cause one or both sides to “dig in their heels on issues,” slowing down the process.

Collaborative bargaining, however, allows both parties to be involved in gathering data, doing research and learning all sides of an issue. “Part of this process is to get both sides involved in thinking of creative solutions,” Hickey said.

The current contract negotiations began on March 15 and 16, with a two-day workshop where the parties began developing ground rules for the bargaining process.

Generally, contracts are negotiated every two years, but the last contract – signed just one year ago – took so long to come together that both parties have agreed to create a new agreement.

Negotiating the last contract was difficult, in part, because the chief spokesperson for the Oregon University System had a very tight schedule, which restricted how often the teams could meet.

This year, however, Dick Pratt, vice provost at Portland State, is fulfilling that role, and Hickey said he seems to be dedicating more time to the process. Rather than meeting just once a month, as in the last contract negotiations, both parties are hoping to meet on a weekly basis in order to speed the process up.

The first issue the teams chose to address is that of faculty parking. According to Hickey, AAUP is hoping for better access to parking, easier availability and more equitable rates. AAUP used this issue as a jumping off point for negotiations in order to “start with something a little more concrete and to ease into the process,” Hickey said.

Both teams attended an hour and a half long presentation from the head of parking at PSU, examining data on parking restrictions from the city, among other things. This, according to Hickey, is an example of both parties starting from the same page with the same information, in order to come to more reasonable agreements.

Among the other issues pertinent is that of compression, a situation in which the rate of increase for senior staff salary does not match market values. “This means that new hires come in at salaries matching people who have tenure,” Hickey said. In her own department, Hickey said a new staff member was hired at the rate she was making after eight years at Portland State. “The longer you work here, the worse it is.”

In addition, the union will address the problem of full-time fixed term faculty, who are employed on a year-to-year basis. AAUP would like to secure two- or three-year rollover contracts for these faculty members. According to Hickey, this would give both the employees and their departments more security and would lessen the burden placed on other faculty members responsible for reviewing fixed term faculty every year.

“A lot of programs depend on these people, and they have no job security from one year to the next. That’s not a comfortable position to be in,” she said. The rollover contract would allow contracts to automatically renew, barring any problem or issue that would need to be addressed. There are currently 40 people being considered for this type of contract, all of whom have been at PSU for at least eight years.

Ongoing working conditions is another issue of concern for faculty. According to Hickey, many people are concerned about what would happen in the event of an earthquake.

“I don’t think we are prepared to react if that were to happen,” she said. In addition, she expressed concern over the condition of some of PSU’s buildings and would like to see those concerns addressed.

Some of the faculty are also troubled by continued harassment on the part of students as a result of taking on controversial issues in the classroom. AAUP would like to see a change in the way the university handles these types of situations.

Their current contract runs out on August 31, but Hickey said the time it takes to negotiate new contracts can be completely unpredictable. The process is expected to speed up in early summer, once the university has a clear idea of what their budget will be. Hickey was “enouraged that the university is investing the time and energy that they are,” and hopes that the new contracts will be in place by September or October, in time for the new school year.