March 11, 1997

(ACCFT)- Conducting A Strike Vote

March 11, 1997  NR 3-1997

A spokesman for the University of Alaska said today he was surprised that the Alaska Community College Federation of Teachers (ACCFT) would be conducting a strike vote in the middle of ongoing mediation, and expressed the hope that continuing mediation would resolve areas of disagreement between the university and the union which represents about 250 of the institution's 1,100 faculty members.

"Given the progress we were making in mediation, we were surprised that the union's leadership declared impasse and called for a strike vote," said Jim Johnsen, the university's director of labor relations. "Despite this recent development, we remain encouraged by the possibility of a mediated settlement."

ACCFT's decision to conduct a strike vote came after six months of active negotiation and two days of mediation which is scheduled to continue next month, Johnsen said.

Mediation, under the auspices of the U. S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, began last week and will resume on April 3 and 4. "Based on the proposals going back and forth across the table, it appeared both sides were willing to make some movement," Johnsen said. "That's why we don't think we're at impasse in these negotiations. We want to keep negotiating, with the assistance of the federal mediator, to see what we can work out at the table."

During the mediation session last week, the mediator focused on the major issues holding up an agreement. These included salaries, health benefits, workload, promotion and tenure, and union business release time.

On salaries, the union's last proposal was for an increase of 8.2 percent effective July 1, 1997. In response, Johnsen said, "While we respect the faculty and are committed to paying a competitive salary, we must balance that commitment with the fact that the university's budget, in real terms, has declined by 30 percent over the last ten years. We don't expect that to change dramatically in the near future, and the university wants to keep tuition as affordable and reasonable as possible." The university is proposing a 3 percent increase effective July 1, 1997, and 2.5 percent effective July 1, 1998. In response to a union proposal in mediation, the university is preparing a response to a union-proposed step and lane salary grid.

On health benefits, the union proposes that it retain the same health plan it has had since 1992. Since that time, the university's plan covering all other faculty and staff has been modified to include cost containment features. "In the interest of equity and cost, the university is proposing that ACCFT faculty join all other faculty and staff on the university plan," said Johnsen. The university proposes to increase its contribution to the cost of the plan by 3 percent each year of the contract.

The university's workload proposal provides that faculty would be assigned the equivalent of 15 credit hours per semester, no change from current university policy. The workload would include teaching and/or public service, as assigned by the university administration.

On union business release time, ACCFT proposes to continue to receive a university subsidy of nearly $200,000 per year for 2.5 faculty positions working for the union. In addition, ACCFT proposes an additional subsidy for its negotiators. In response, Johnsen said, "We respect the union and its right to represent faculty, but, given the university's mission to serve students, the university believes the current subsidy is no longer an appropriate expenditure."

On promotion and tenure, the union proposes to continue the current system of review of all faculty at the University of Alaska Anchorage instead of at their own campuses. The university proposes that the peer and administrative review process would occur on the faculty member's campus and that periodic reviews should be conducted after tenure has been granted. "We are committed to a strong and accountable promotion and tenure process at the university," Johnsen said.

Of the upcoming mediation session, Johnsen said, "The university believes it is in the best interest of our students and the public that we treat the negotiation and mediation process with respect. We are preparing a response to the union's last proposal and we'll be ready on April 3 to present it. We are optimistic that with the assistance of the mediator, we will be able to reach an agreement."

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Jim Johnsen, 907-474-7879
Bob Miller, 907-474-7272