University of Alaska faculty rally at the Capitol as administration and union continue mediation

A woman speaks into a megaphone on the steps of the Alaska state capitol while others around her hold signs in support of university faculty
Associate Professor of Chemistry at University of Alaska Southeast Lisa Hoferkamp looks at colleague Jill Dumesnil, professor of mathematics, as she talks during a United Academics rally June 22, 2022, in front of the Alaska State Capitol. (Photo by Lisa Phu/Alaska Beacon)

In between two scheduled mediation sessions this week, University of Alaska faculty members and supporters rallied at the Alaska State Capitol on Wednesday, calling for a fair and competitive negotiated contract.

“We deserve a fair contract and I think that the administration is stalling,” Lisa Hoferkamp said. Hoferkamp is an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Alaska Southeast and has been with the university for 22 years.

“We worked very hard, especially during the pandemic. We’ve made a lot of sacrifices in an effort to keep the University of Alaska together. And now, when it finally comes time to reciprocate or to show something, the administration refuses to negotiate fairly.”

Hoferkamp was one of about 15 university faculty joined by a dozen supporters from other unions representing state workers and supervisors, as well as school employees, rallying in front of the Capitol.

The University of Alaska administration and faculty union United Academics have been negotiating the terms of the collective bargaining agreement since late August 2021. The two parties started federal mediation in May and had three sessions that month. There was a fourth session this past Monday and another one scheduled Thursday. The rally at the Capitol Wednesday was United Academics’ third public event this summer to show solidarity.

“Faculty are tired. They have worked tirelessly through very difficult and extraordinary times. We’ve received one single 1% raise in six years and have lost approximately 20% of our purchasing power during that time. And so, we’re feeling a little pinched. Faculty, in general, are feeling a little pinched,” said Jill Dumesnil, professor of mathematics at the University of Alaska Southeast. Dumesnil is also organizational vice president of the union for the Juneau campus and sits on the union negotiating team.

In April, the administration offered what it called its “best and final offer.” In the midst of the federal mediation process, the board of regents in May approved implementing the offer, a contract the faculty union didn’t agree with, that had raises of 3%, 2.5% and 2% over three years. The move was an attempt to get the increases in the state budget before the Legislature adjourned. It failed though; the budget that passed did not include any increases for full-time faculty.

The faculty union has proposed faculty increases of 5%, between 3% and 7%, and between 3% and 6% over the next three years, with the latter two years’ increases determined by the consumer price index. The union wants the university to provide real cost of living adjustments that match inflation.

“Differing views”

In a June 16 email update to the UA community, UA President Pat Pitney described the June mediation sessions as a “resumption of negotiations” with United Academics. Last month, when the administration unilaterally implemented the contract, Pitney said an impasse had been established in negotiations. The claim has been disputed by the union.

“Resumption of negotiations after implementation of the Best and Final Offer does not mean that the university is reverting to the expired [collective bargaining agreement]. That would serve no one well and would only create confusion,” the email said. Pitney wrote the administration has been and will continue to operate under the implemented terms of the best and final offer.

“I have every expectation that we ultimately will reach an amicable and comprehensive agreement” to replace the terms of the best and final offer, Pitney wrote.

Pitney wrote the administration would request a supplemental appropriation for the provisions of an agreement that require spending when the Legislature reconvenes in January 2023.

Pitney also warned, “UA will only agree to terms that can be supported by the Board of Regents and the Department of Administration, be funded with a Legislative appropriation, and that will avoid a gubernatorial veto. A package that is too rich might not get appropriated, or worse, might get appropriated without additional funds to pay for the increases.”

Dumesnil with the faculty union said “the university administration and United Academics have differing views” on the status of the collective bargaining.

“My view is mediation has been ongoing,” she said in response to Pitney’s characterization that negotiations are resuming. “We’ve had ongoing negotiation. We’ve had mediation scheduled. We have a mediation session scheduled for tomorrow.”

A June 17 United Academics update to its more than 1,000 members said the length of time between mediation sessions was due to summer scheduling conflicts.

“The bargaining units have not reached agreement, and we have not agreed that we are at impasse, nor has our state labor agency confirmed that we are at impasse, as required by state law. The monetary terms, or any terms, of a CBA cannot be unilaterally implemented by an employer,” the update said, citing Alaska statute.

Union membership wants a new collective bargaining agreement that members can ratify, the regents can approve, and the Legislature can appropriate.

“That’s our ideal situation,” Dumesnil said. Regarding an ideal timeline, she said, “We do have a mediation session scheduled for tomorrow. So now is ideal.”

Alaska Beacon

Alaska Beacon is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alaska Beacon maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Andrew Kitchenman for questions: info@alaskabeacon.com. Follow Alaska Beacon on Facebook and Twitter.

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