Photo by Anna Meassick | Professors have been teaching without a contract in place after the current one expired in June.
Faculty at the University of Rhode Island have been working for almost a month without contracts as the faculty union and the state have been negotiating an appropriate agreement.
The previous contract was valid from July 1, 2014, through June 30, 2018. Classes at the University began on Sept. 5, 2018, which means full-time faculty did not have a new contract in place for much of the summer as well as the beginning of the academic year.
The contract agreement was negotiated between the University of Rhode Island American Association of University Professors (URI AAUP) and the Rhode Island Council on Postsecondary Education (RIOPC). The contract outlines many aspects of a faculty member’s employment at the University. Aspects such as salary, fringe benefits, tenure processes and more are generally included in the contract.
Jay Walsh, the executive director of the URI AAUP, said Rhode Island does not produce a final budget until the end of June, which is when the contract agreement expired.
Since the budget is not approved until the end of June, it is not clear how much money the state will allocate towards education. As a result, negotiation teams have difficulty reaching a new contract agreement until after the previous contract has expired.
“The ultimate goal is to always have a collective bargaining agreement in place before the current agreement expires,” Walsh said. “Historically, it hasn’t been the case with higher education bargaining in the state of Rhode Island.”
A new contract agreement was not reached before the end of the summer because the URI AAUP had to wait for the RIOPC to hold a special council meeting where they voted on a proposed financial package. The council did not vote on the financial package until a meeting on Sept. 5, 2018.
Timothy DelGiudice, the chair of the RIOPC, released a statement on Sept. 21, 2018, through the RIOPC Director of Communications and Outreach. In part, DelGiudice stated, “I called a Special [sic] Council meeting for September 5 for the very purpose of keeping these negotiations moving forward in a positive direction, which we believe they have been.”
Walsh said numerous faculty members were concerned when the academic year started and a new contract agreement had still not been reached. It is often the case that faculty have to wait until after the previous contract expires or until the academic year starts to receive a new contract.
“This will be the twenty-second collective bargaining agreement and [the] twenty-one previous ones weren’t reached until after the academic year started or even two or three years after the last contract expired,” Walsh said.
Until the new contract agreement was reached, full-time faculty members and the University continued to operate under the provisions of the previous contract.
Negotiations for a new contract began on March 6, 2018. In total, 23 negotiation sessions were held. Compulsory mediation started at the beginning of September and at least seven compulsory meditations were held.
Walsh was pleased that the union and the state were able to reach a resolution. He said the negotiating team, which consists of URI faculty members, worked hard to reach an agreement.
“They worked well together, they were united, they were strong, and they always thought about the entire bargaining unit in the process of negotiations,” Walsh said. “It was a pleasure to be a part of that with them.”
The RIOPC have not yet sent an updated statement since the new contract agreement was reached. In the Sept. 21, 2018 statement, DelGiudice said in part, “Faculty play an important role in our higher education system. The Council has been working collaboratively with the AAUP throughout the negotiation process, having held over 20 negotiating sessions already.”
Full-time faculty are expected to be able to see copies of the new contract agreement in the upcoming week.