Where is the Contract?
Dear UFCT Member:
At this late mid-spring semester date, it would be perfectly logical that you might be wondering aloud, or are contemplating accosting me personally to demand: “where the hell is the contract?”
As you’ll recall, I sent an email message to all UFCT members in late November 2007 announcing that the UFCT’s negotiating team had reached an “agreement” with the Pratt Administration. What was to follow shortly thereafter was: (1) an agreement letter, or ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ (the document enumerating all changes and amendments to the Collective Bargaining Agreement) from the Pratt Administration would be forwarded to the Union for review, once vetted, the MOU would be signed by the Union’s negotiating team. Following this signing, (2) copies of the MOU would be distributed to all UFCT members. Once reviewed by the members, (3) a ballot would be conducted, a majority of members voting in the affirmative effectively ratifying the [new] Contract.
However, as many of us know all too well, Pratt moves slowly and in [seemingly] mysterious ways…
As such, although we started negotiations more-or-less on time (in early summer 2007, as opposed to late spring) and actually completed negotiations in record time (our last negotiating date on November 20th which was within one semester of the CBA’s expiration, as opposed to the usual practice of not reaching an agreement until two, four or more semesters have passed…), the Union actually did not receive the MOU until January 25, 2008 a full two months after the completion of negotiations. Hence, the stalling began…
Yet, notwithstanding the fact I was out of commission for almost two weeks in early February due to illness, our negotiating team of seven [including our NYSUT lawyer] was still able to thoroughly review the MOU individually during this period as well as meet as a group repeatedly throughout the last week of February.
I cannot over emphasize just how important this review process is, or how imperative it is to be acutely aware of as well as anticipate all of the potential ramifications and/or implications of changes in text or contract language. Keep in mind; absent the “intent” or what is often described as the “spirit" of a specific word, clause, or article, a contract is nothing more than a jumble of words devoid of “meaning.” Or worse, a document whose meaning is defined exclusively by Management. And, meaning is what we, the Union, bargain for, negotiate, debate and grieve each and every day. As example, from my point of view, way too much time was spent in negotiations on what were two administration proposals: (1) a rewrite of our ‘Academic Freedom and Responsibility’ article (III), and (2) a rewrite of the ‘Personnel Files’ article (XIX). Putting aside: why [?] they felt the need to propose such changes, or what their “real” motives were, imagine now that words like: “research”, “constructive dissent” and “teaching effectiveness and professional competence” are missing in their proposal for academic freedom, or, the following clause: “each faculty member shall be informed when material is placed in his or her central file and shall have the right to append or affix comments to the file” is [some how] dropped from their proposal of revising the personnel files article? Are these omissions “intended” or “unintended" and if left unchecked or left to stand, what would these articles then actually “mean”?
Following our review, the Union had a number of concerns with this initial draft of the MOU, as certain “omissions” [or additions as it were] in language did not appear to reflect or “say” what we negotiated in good faith. As such, I met privately with the Provost (he having led the negotiations for the Administration) on March 4th and brought to his attention our concerns. At the time, I felt that the meeting was exceedingly productive as there were no arguments to speak of; our concerns not only acknowledged, but also accepted.
However, on March 24th [a full three weeks later] I received from the Provost, a revised MOU that incredulously excludes one — not too insignificant — an item. Not insignificant, because in no uncertain terms I will not sign the MOU absent its inclusion. To quote our NYSUT lawyer, its exclusion actually constitutes a “substantive change absent negotiation" [which is not bargaining in good faith]. For your review: the item in question is what exists now as section: 19.6 of article XIX [Personnel Files]: “Only materials contained in the central personnel file or materials reflecting professional development and achievements may be used as the basis for any personnel actions.”
Can you imagine the potential consequences of such a clause being dropped from our Contract? I can, and because it is my job to protect the faculty bargaining unit from the whims of an Administration continually testing and prodding what they view as fault lines in our Contract, I will not cede to those tactics administered in bad faith. In summary, we did not, and would not, negotiate or bargain away, the “intent”, “spirit” or “meaning of 19.6. Period!
Rest assured, we are pushing as hard as we can to have this all resolved by late spring/early summer. Once the Contract is ratified everyone will be paid retroactively for the 2007-2008 academic year.
I sincerely appreciate your patience and understanding.