Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Health Insurance and the SEIU Deal

I wanted to highlight one element of the SEIU agreement mentioned in the post below. It involves health insurance coverage, and since this deal will be a template for subsequent deals (including ours), it's highly pertinent. First, the good news:
The health benefits state workers receive will remain intact under the tentative agreement, said Leslie Frane, the executive director of SEIU Local 503. The state covers all premium costs for state employees, a perk the unions have fought and sacrificed to keep over the years.
Now the bad:
The state will pay as much as 5% each year for premium increases to maintain existing health insurance coverage. The Public Employees Benefit Board will be asked to use its reserves to cover any increases above 5 percent and below 10 percent.
When we started bargaining this year, we learned of this proposal. What it means is that if health care costs rise more than 5% a year, it will come out of members' salaries. In the past contract, we had language that protected us from cost increases of up to 12%:
"For plan year January 1, 2009 through December 31, 2009, the Employer will increase its monthly contributions by up to twelve percent (12%) of the actual monthly composite resulting for plan year 2008."
The contract called for both parties to share the expense of health insurance costs exceeding the 12% ceiling. In 2008, health insurance was expected to rise by 6.9%, but thanks to the recession, the national average was an increase of just 5% (which was nevertheless twice the rate of inflation).

Furloughs, Furloughs Everywhere

After declaring an impasse last week, it looks like the Governor and SEIU have come to an agreement:
Oregon state workers will take 10 to 14 unpaid furlough days during the next two years, under a tentative contract agreement announced Tuesday morning between the state and its two largest workers' unions.

The contract also calls for delaying a scheduled step pay increase for more than a year and deleting a second planned step increase, according to a joint release by Service Employees International Union Local 503 and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 75.

As expected, there will be no cost-of-living pay increases for any workers during the 2009-11 biennium....

The final agreement represents a compromise on both sides. SEIU started negotiations by offering eight furlough days and a cost-of-living wage freeze. Kulongoski countered with a demand of 24 furlough days and a total wage freeze, including both cost-of-living and step increases.
The article goes on to note, in a comment I was going to make myself: "The settlements with AFSCME and SEIU will serve as a model for contracts with smaller state workers' unions, Gov. Ted Kulongoski said in a release Tuesday."

It's still not clear to anyone how furloughs might be applied to salaried faculty and staff, yet in anther story from the New York Times, that's exactly what members of the Cal-State faculty have agreed to do:
A union that represents 22,000 faculty members at California State University has agreed to two furlough days a month to help close a huge budget deficit at the 23-campus system, officials said Friday.

Members of the union, the California Faculty Association, voted for the furloughs, which amount to a 10 percent pay cut, over the coming academic year. The move was approved by 54 percent of 8,800 union members.

Union officials are still negotiating with system officials about how to carry out the furloughs, which are likely to result in fewer teaching days or administrative duties for faculty members, said John Travis, a professor who is chairman of the union’s bargaining committee.

The chancellor has called for nearly all of the system’s 47,000 employees to take unpaid leave two days a month as part of a plan to address a $584 million budget deficit caused by a 20 percent reduction in state financing. The furloughs could save up to $275 million.
Lots more to come, and I'll try to keep you up to date.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Anti-Tax Ballot Measure Clouds Future

One of the most important developments to watch involves a group of anti-tax activists who are organizing to repeal the recently-passed $733 million tax increases on some businesses and wealthy individuals. The Oregonian's Jeff Mapes is reporting that this coalition is already well on their way:

While Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski took roughly three weeks to sign two controversial tax bills into law, the secretary of state's office spent less than six hours Tuesday approving the paperwork that allows opponents to begin gathering signatures to put the tax increases on the ballot.

A broad coalition of business groups and tax activists are hoping to collect some 55,000 valid signatures by the Sept. 25 deadline to put each of the tax measures up to a vote of the people at a Jan. 26 election.

The tax increases were necessary to cover a massive budget deficit caused by the current recession. Mapes is also reporting that the coalition has already raised $200,000 to fund the effort:

Associations representing homebuilders, restaurants, grocers and auto dealers each kicked in $25,000. Several oil distributors kicked in at least $40,000, two beer distributors gave a total of $20,000, Associated General Cotnractors gave $12,500 and the Realtors donated $10,000....

Lori Hardwick, the go-to fundraiser for Oregon Republicans, has been signed on by the anti-tax coalition (which calls itself Oregonians Against Job-Killing Taxes) and $100,000 has already been put into the signature-gathering effort. And, of course, the mastermind behind the campaign is Mark Nelson, the Salem lobbyist and consultant who orchestrated the defeat of the 2007 cigarette tax hike that was put on the ballot by the Legislature.

I will update the blog with info as the effort progresses.

Monday, July 27, 2009

AAUP Summer Institute

Over the weekend PSU-AAUP Director Phil Lesch and I attended the AAUP Summer Institute in Minneapolis.

For someone relatively new to active volunteer work with our chapter, it was a very enlightening experience. There were something like 200 participants at the Summer Institute, a record, and also 140 first-timers, also a record. The member and affiliate chapters range from very small, teaching-only schools to larger Ph.D-granting schools. (PSU has one of the larger memberships.)

Some of the universities represented by AAUP have only tenured professors or only a small number of fixed-term faculty (the classifications and names of these differ). My sense is that our ratio of tenure to fixed-term is weighted more to fixed term than other schools--Howard Bunsis, the AAUP treasurer, mentioned that at his university, Eastern Michigan, 70% of the faculty are tenure-line. Our contingent of academic professionals also seems novel to many I spoke to.

The institute is structured around four intensive three-hour sessions with lively titles like "Impasse Resolution" and "Faculty Leadership in Tough Financial Times." As you can imagine, the content got fairly detailed fairly quickly, so I'll skip the specifics. I left feeling energized and excited about the future. It was nice to see others who are in similar (or worse--sometimes far, far worse) situations and get a broader perspective.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Kulongoski Declares Impasse

Very alarming news out of Salem today: Governor Kulongoski is declaring impasse with SEIU.
Gov. Ted Kulongoski declared an impasse over negotiations with state unions on Wednesday, starting the clock for 37 days until he can legally dictate state workers' pay.

The Oregon Legislature passed a state budget that requires $130 million in general fund reductions for the 2009-2011 biennium. In a budget note, the Legislature estimated that about half -- $65 million -- would come from reducing state workers' compensation. But the governor aims to save $100 million....

While labor leaders say the two sides have agreed on no cost of living increases and a small decrease in health insurance benefits, they have remained at odds on pay freezes and the number of unpaid furlough days that employees must take.

Frane said that the governor's representatives wanted to tie the number of furlough days to state revenues, raising the number if the economy gets worse. The unions want the number to be fixed, she said.
Whether workers will get wage increases for pay steps over the next two years is also under discussion.

More analysis to come. (I'm tying to post this from a cell phone at the AAUP's Summer Institute in Minnesota.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

University of California Institutes Faculty Furloughs

Here's a grim report from the New York Times about massive cuts the UC system is currently absorbing as fall-out from that state's economic crisis. I will excerpt the piece relevant to AAUP's position, but the article details other cuts beyond these:

Systemwide, 724 staff members have been laid off, and there may be more, Mr. Yudof said, especially if unionized employees reject the furloughs.

The furloughs, to be implemented Sept. 1, will be systemwide, with some exceptions, including those whose jobs are fully financed by research grants.

“It’s important not to take money from enterprises that are really entrepreneurial,” Mr. Yudof said, “and it wouldn’t help us with our deficit. Maybe this will encourage people to be entrepreneurial and go out and get those grants.”
In response to urging from university employees, the furloughs are structured so that people who earn more take bigger pay cuts. Those earning less than $40,000 will have 11 furlough days, equivalent to a 4 percent pay cut, while those earning more than $240,000 will have 26 furlough days, which is about a 10 percent pay cut. Mr. Yudof said he expected that faculty members would not take furloughs on their teaching days.

The university may also close for some additional days, as other California offices have done.
Read the whole article here.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

PSU's Tuition Hike: 10%

Yesterday, Governor Kulongoski restored $11.5 million to the higher ed budget (he actually vetoed a last-minute cut by the lesislature). In today's Oregonian, Suzanne Pardington reports that the tuition hikes will range from 3.5% at Eastern Oregon to 15.4% at OU. PSU will have the second-highest hike at 10%.

The biggest Oregon increase is at the UO, where officials rolled a $150 spring tuition surcharge into the new rate. Annual full-time, in-state tuition and fees for UO undergraduates will be 15.4 percent more this fall than last fall.

Officials call it a 7.9 percent increase by adding the spring surcharge into last year's annual rate.

By the university system's figures, the tuition increases average 8 percent for the large universities and 5 percent for the smaller universities, as called for by the Legislature. They also comply with Legislature's caps of 9 percent for large campuses and 6.5 percent for smaller campuses. With differing numbers of credits, those numbers do not reflect what every student pays....

With college costs going up all over the country -- 14 percent at University of Washington and 9.3 percent for University of California -- Oregon students and board members were relieved that it wasn't worse.

This is all very useful. Over the summer, members of both the AAUP and university bargaining teams will be working together to figure out how to manage the cuts. Our negotiations have been hampered because we've lacked actual numbers. Now that they're coming in, we can see where we stand.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Kulongoski Reverses Legislature's Limit on Tuition Hikes

This is big. From today's Oregonian:

Gov. Ted Kulongoski plans to veto the Legislature's last-minute whack of the state's public universities to avoid double-digit tuition hikes.

The governor will announce his plans before the State Board of Higher Education meets today to set tuition rates, likely preventing a showdown between the Legislature and the board over the increases.

This is a reversal of the legislature's 11th-hour $11.5 million cut to higher ed just before the end of this year's session. All of this has direct bearing on our negotiations with the university.
With the governor's line-item veto expected, university officials now plan to limit increases to 9 percent at the three large universities and 6.5 percent at most small universities, following the Legislature's limits.

Tuition increases will partially make up for a cut of nearly 10 percent from the university system's $893.2 million 2007-09 budget. To get to the $807.5 million budget for 2009-11, the universities also plan to cut pay, jobs, classes and campus services.
I'll watch this closely and see what develops in the next few days.