New UVM/faculty union contract recognizes need for fiscal prudence

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New UVM/faculty union contract recognizes need for fiscal prudence

Mon, 05/10/2021 - 3:58pm -- tim

Vermont Business Magazine The University of Vermont and its full-time faculty union, United Academics, have finalized an unprecedented 4-year labor contract that values the faculty and their contributions to the university, and recognizes the need for ongoing fiscal prudence, the UVM administration said in a statement announcing the agreement. The union said it was able to hold off cuts to base pay and benefits during the negotiations, which lasted virtually through the pandemic.

Although the university’s finances are generally stable, UVM said it continues to face multi-million-dollar revenue shortfalls. With state support amounting to only 6 percent of the university’s operating budget, UVM’s long-term success and stability requires the university to continue to restrain spending, increase value through innovation, and keep tuition affordable for students and their families.

The new contract recognizes this imperative by including a zero salary increase for the current fiscal year (FY21), a 1% increase in FY22, a 2% increase in FY23, and a 2.5% increase in FY24. A portion of the 2.5% increase in the final year is earmarked for meritorious performers.

The new terms also include a modest adjustment in tuition remission benefits to encourage students using this benefit to complete their studies within five years rather than seven, renewed commitments to professional development, and support for faculty to develop and submit grant and contract proposals for funding their scholarship and that of their students.

“Throughout this bargaining process we have affirmed that attracting and retaining outstanding faculty is essential to UVM’s success,” said UVM President Suresh Garimella. “We also have been clear about our strong commitment to students and their families to provide a high-quality educational experience that is financially accessible and affordable. I appreciate the diligence and respectful exchange between bargaining teams on both sides regarding these important issues.”

UVM faculty receive compensation packages that are competitive in comparison to peer institutions.

The average base pay for a full professor’s 9-month appointment is $127,380. This does not include summer pay and other sources of additional compensation received by faculty. Last year these additional sources of pay totaled more than $6.9 million. Faculty with 9-month appointments also receive a comprehensive 12-month benefits package.

“We are glad the parties were able to come to terms and reach final settlement on this 4-year contract,” said Mary Brodsky, associate chief human resource officer at UVM. “These are very challenging times for the university and for higher education in general. This contract continues our commitment to market-based salaries and benefits for faculty and to ensuring the long-term financial viability of the university.”

The need for fiscal prudence has also led the university to reduce the operating budgets of its administrative units by $11.5 million this year, UVM said. Moreover, these administrative units have had to reduce their budgets in 12 of the past 13 years. The university has also deliberately constrained the size of its administration, now among the leanest in the nation. The university has only 5.6 administrators per 1000 students, compared to an average of 9.8 at our public research university peers.

UVM said the university made clear during bargaining that constraining salary increases is necessary in order to restrain the university’s spending. That’s because employee salary and benefits account for nearly 70% of the general fund budget, and a large variety of creative expense-reduction strategies have already been implemented.

Tuition—which accounts for three-quarters of general fund revenues and is the fourth-highest among public higher education institutions—cannot be increased to bridge budget gaps, UVM said. Likewise, the university’s endowment—made up of over 800 individual gifts, most of which specify a single, restricted way the proceeds off a gift may be used—cannot be tapped as a revenue source. UVM's endowment was $562.5 million as of FY 2020.

University of Vermont faculty said in its statement Monday that it voted overwhelmingly in favor of ratifying the new four-year contract.

The bargaining process leading to this tentative agreement was drawn out and arduous, the union said, as the UVM administration initially proposed steep cuts to base salary and benefits over several years. United Academics, the faculty union at UVM, pushed back repeatedly. In key outcomes for UVM faculty, the union negotiating team protected salaries and benefits and guaranteed an administrative commitment to diversity in faculty hiring and retention.

Jane Knodell, economics professor and chief negotiator for United Academics, says: “We are pleased that the team was able to bring to members an agreement which preserves benefits; secures modest salary raises; increases professional development funds, minimum salary levels, and per diem compensation; protects intellectual property rights, incorporates a commitment to diversity and inclusion; and increases transparency in workload policies.”

Negotiations between United Academics and the UVM administration began in early February 2020 and proceeded remotely through the COVID-19 pandemic. The union bargaining team, committed to compromise and good faith from the start, proposed progressive, temporary salary reductions in the early months of the pandemic, and explored possible avenues for cost savings when the fiscal effects of the pandemic were uncertain.

Despite these efforts, the union said, negotiations reached impasse in October over a series of both economic and non-economic issues. In the meantime, United Academics advocated for non- tenure track Lecturers whose pay was cut (and later restored), protested the abrupt closure of UVM’s Campus Children’s School, challenged the administration’s termination of key humanities and science programs and haphazard plan to reorganize colleges within the university, questioned the administration’s overall financial management, and stood with three beloved and long-serving senior lecturers who were not reappointed in the name of budget cuts.

Since November, the parties have worked with a federal mediator to try to reach a fair and reasonable compromise. The faculty union said it successfully fought back against the administration’s austere initial proposal, which included 10 percent cuts to base salary, eliminated UVM retirement contributions for 2 years, reduced sabbatical benefits, reduced severance pay for non- renewed Senior Lecturers, introduced more restrictive sick leave, and other stress-inducing and demoralizing schemes. Through negotiations, the faculty union ended up securing raises of 5.5% over the next three years and protection of retirement, sabbatical, severance pay, and other benefits.

“We are confident that the strength of our union throughout collective bargaining is what prevented the administration from imposing the deep and lasting cuts to base salary and benefits that they proposed, and that our pressure helped tip the balance toward the restoration of staff pay that had been cut” says United Academics president Julie Roberts.

Many United Academics faculty reported they are relieved to finish negotiations after an uncertain and, for many, devastating year. Faculty remain steadfast in their commitment to UVM’s mission of providing affordable, high quality, student-centered, and accessible education for Vermonters.
United Academics is the union of full- and part-time faculty at the University of Vermont, representing more than 800 faculty from departments and colleges across the campus. We are a member-led union committed to academic freedom, high quality research and education, shared governance, and social and environmental justice.  www.unitedacademics.org

AFT Vermont represents over 5000 healthcare and higher education professionals at UVM Medical Center, the University of Vermont, the Vermont State Colleges, the Community College of Vermont, Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, Porter Medical Center and the Community Health Center of Burlington and PPNNE-Vermont.

The American Federation of Teachers is a union of professionals that champions fairness; democracy; economic opportunity; and high-quality public education, healthcare and public services for our students, their families and our communities. We are committed to advancing these principles through community engagement, organizing, collective bargaining and political activism, and especially through the work our members do. In Vermont, American Federation of Teachers represents professionals in health care and higher education. http://vt.aft.org/

Source: UVM. United Academics. Burlington-5.10.2021.