The University of Alaska has complained to the Alaska Labor Relations Agency that its faculty union is being “obstructionist.”
This follows a complaint by the faculty union that the university has failed to bargain in good faith and has dragged out the mediation process.
The two sides are having difficulty agreeing on a new contract — they are far apart on compensation and are currently in federal mediation — and now they have dueling complaints to the state labor board.
The next mediation meeting is schedule for Monday. Despite the conflict, both sides see a path toward resolution, according to an email and a news release.
“We are very close and are hopeful the university will provide a reasonable response to the seven remaining articles that we provided as a package during our last mediation session,” reads an email on Monday from Abel Bult-Ito, professor of neurobiology and neurophysiology and president of United Academics Local 4996.
A Friday news release from the university reads that officials see the Alaska Labor Relations Agency process as helpful to resolving issues with the faculty union.
The university is working with Perkins Coie, an international law firm based in Seattle, which filed a 61-page complaint to the state labor board on Friday.
Bult-Ito described the university’s complaint as “generally a misrepresentation of the facts.”
The complaint characterizes the union as flighty.
The university holds that the faculty union has been difficult to work with since the beginning when the university asked to negotiate virtually last year due to Covid-19. The union adamantly refused but then relented.
After working on setting ground rules for negotiations for six weeks, the union abandoned draft rules and proposed a new set of rules, which the university interpreted as too constraining.
“Ultimately, it was not until August 27, 2021, three months after negotiations on ground rules began, that the teams were able to agree on the basic parameters of negotiations,” the university’s filing with the labor board reads.
The two sides have met for dozens of bargaining sessions over the course of the last year.
“Overall, the bargaining history demonstrates that the university was consistently responsive in offering their own bargaining proposals and responding to the United Academics’ proposals over the course of 42 bargaining sessions, including the two mediated negotiations, in the span of approximately eight months, particularly in light of the fact that United Academics put forth 182 separate, substantive proposed changes to the contract impacting 121 different sections of the contract,” the filing with the labor board reads.
“By comparison, UA proposed only 12 substantive changes. Considering the pace and extent which United Academics was proposing changes, the university met their obligations to respond and bargain in good faith.”
The union, which represents about 1,000 faculty throughout the UA system, holds that the Board of Regents and President Pat Pitney “unilaterally and illegally” declared an impasse in May.
Much of UA’s filing to the labor board provides its justification for declaring an impasse.
The union has sought concessions with respect to workload, job security and the meaning of academic freedom, but compensation is the main area of contention, according to the recent filing to the labor board.
Faculty have received only one raise of 1% over the last five years. The average annual salary for a United Academics member is $86,000.
The union’s salary requests are coming in too high for university leaders, who must convince the Legislature to approve monetary terms of negotiated agreements.
The university holds that its complaint to the Alaska Labor Relations Agency was necessary “to ensure that the entire context of the negotiations process — not just UNAC’s selective snapshot — is before the hearing officer so that the ALRA may fairly decide the issues raised by the parties,” the university’s news release on Friday reads.