Faculty, University at Stalemate over Benefits

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Editor’s note: This article was rushed to print before the USF administration was given an opportunity to comment on the contract negotiations. A more comprehensive article, reflecting the views of the administration as well as the faculty union will appear in next week’s issue.

After months of failed negotiations with the administration, the University of San Francisco Faculty Association, the registered and incorporated union of USF faculty and librarians, held two informational picketing sessions this week in order to gain support from the university community. The USFFA requested improved salary and benefits when they made their contract renegotiation in June, and the administration has failed to reach a compromise suitable to the USFFA.

“The union has never done anything to harm the university, but now is a time of economic surplus for the university, and they should be passing that on to us,” said Elliot Neaman, professor of history and president of the USFFA. According to Neaman, the university has run economic surpluses of about $40 million a year for the last three years, but this has not been considered in the negotiations. “They’re nickel-and-diming us on every issue.”

The negotiations have been over more than just salary: the university’s proposed benefits such as healthcare, retirement, adoption credit, affordable housing and transportation are all “insufficient,” according to Neaman.

One issue particularly disturbing to Michael Stanfield, Latin American studies professor, is the unfulfilled promise to provide affordable on-site childcare for faculty, staff and students. “The administration has unilaterally walked away from that,” he said, “and that irritates me.”

To Stanfield, the issue of cutting these types of benefits is a matter of social justice, one of the university’s self-proclaimed priorities. “Social justice starts at home. It’s not just in Central America, South Africa, or Darfur,” he said. “The university is walking away from what is one of the most crushing issues for parents. Childcare can cost up to $1000 a month.”

Concerns over salary are also prevalent though. The salary increase proposed by the administration in June was four percent, which is about on par or below inflation – the Bureau of Labor Statistics states that in the Bay Area, inflation averages about 4.8 percent per year – meaning that the salary increase would actually not be keeping up with rising cost of living.

“The average salary is $80,000 a year,” Neaman said, “and if you have a family and a mortgage, $80,000 is gone fast.”

The USFFA hopes that the informational picketing will show the administration that by and large the university community is in support of their requests. By Monday afternoon, they had collected pages of signatures from faculty and students. Steve Zavestoski, associate professor and chair of the sociology and environmental studies departments, was out picketing Monday afternoon and already pleased with the feedback they were getting. He said, “Students have given us a really positive response. They have been drawn over here without us soliciting them, saying they support us, and signing the petition.”

Eddie Harrison, an undeclared freshman, was so supportive of the faculty’s stance that he grabbed a small stack of informational fliers to post around Phelan Hall where he lives. When asked why he was taking this initiative, he simply said, “We need to keep the faculty happy. We want them to want to be here.”

“It seems kind of crazy to cut back on salary when the university is in a surplus,” said junior international studies major Sam Vinal. “They’re interested in ‘changing hearts and minds’ but not compensating the people who make that possible.”

Zavestoski said, “USF is a tuition-driven institution, so if the students support us, that means a lot.”
Jennifer Dever, associate professor of biology and secretary of the policy board, said, “We hope that by getting the information out we will drum up support and put pressure on the administration.” Though she said there was not yet a scheduled meeting between the USFFA and the administration, one would likely occur in the coming weeks, at which point the administration may bring a new offer to the table.

It remains to be seen whether the USFFA, if unsatisfied with further negotiations, will take the informational picketing to the next level. “We will do everything we can to avoid a strike and I believe the administration will do everything they can to avoid a strike,” Neaman said, “But we keep our options on the table.”

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