September 14, 1998

Labor Arbitrator Upholds University Benefits Decision

September 14, 1998ยป NR 21-1998

A labor arbitrator has ruled that the University of Alaska did not violate its agreement with a faculty union when it increased supplemental health and insurance premiums for employees.

Under the university's benefit plan, all regular university employees have the opportunity to purchase additional benefits by paying the cost of those benefits. One faculty union, Alaska Community Colleges' Federation of Teachers (ACCFT), objected to cost increases for 1998. The union argued that cost increases for these optional benefits should not be passed on to union members who use them. Instead, ACCFT argued that they should either be absorbed by the university or passed on to all employees.

In a ruling received September 11, Arbitrator Thomas F. Levak held that the agreement between the union and the university is "absolutely clear and unambiguous" in requiring that "the bargaining unit member pays for the entire cost of supplemental benefits." Levak stated that "[t]he Arbitrator is frankly at a loss to see how that language could have been written more clearly and understandably. There simply is no support for the Union's contentions in the language of the Agreement."

Jim Johnsen, Director of Labor Relations for the university, said the decision was a vital one. "The arbitrator relied on a fundamental principle of contract interpretation - where a contract is clear and unambiguous, it will be enforced as written. This principle is essential for stable and constructive relationships between labor and management." Johnsen noted that "the stability provided by this decision should allow all university employees and management to work together to preserve an excellent benefits package in the face of increasing costs."

For more information contact: Jim Johnsen, Director of Labor Relations, University of Alaska (907) 474-7879