In a recent email to the Barnard community, Provost Linda Bell addressed the fact that the union of the adjunct faculty at Barnard, who are currently in negotiation with the College, have decided on a strike deadline. She shared the College’s perspective on the proposals they have offered and informed the community that the College remains committed to fairness.
Dear Members of the Barnard Community,
This morning we learned that the bargaining committee for the Barnard Contingent Faculty Union (BCF)-UAW has set a strike deadline of February 21, 2017 if no contract agreement has been reached by that date. We are disappointed by this action given progress to date, but we continue to hope and trust that the strike deadline has been imposed to alert both the unit rank-and-file and the College administration of the urgency and intent to reach a fair and reasonable first contract. We remain fully committed to this effort, and our primary concern is, and it has always been, the efficacy of our academic program and the education we are able to offer our students.
I am happy to share that progress has been achieved on key economic and non-economic terms, and that even the bargaining committee’s own notice to its members acknowledges this progress. Moreover, the Union’s statement this morning accepts the College’s recommendation that a federal mediator be engaged in order to bring an independent viewpoint to the important issues that continue to divide us.
When I last wrote to you, on December 8, the Union had voted to empower its leadership to strike as necessary, despite our substantive economic proposal and ongoing negotiations that had yielded progress on key non-economic terms. Furthermore, the Union leadership waited until December 15 to make its first response to an economic proposal that had been on the table since August 2, and unilaterally cancelled a bargaining session set for December 22 only hours before it was to take place. The College has continued to come to each of the 27 bargaining sessions since February 2016 prepared and ready to negotiate in good faith. Since December 8, we have presented multiple substantive proposals that we believe can bring the sides closer, including two revisions to our wage offer and the introduction of new benefit terms.
Of the substantive issues that remain, one concerns the mechanisms for appointments and assignments (what the Union refers to as seniority), and the other, compensation. The College has broken new ground on both.
Over the past year, we have offered unprecedented notice regarding appointments, security in course load, raises in pay and improved access to benefits, including at our most recent bargaining session on January 20.
On the issue of appointments and assignments, we believe strongly that the departments themselves should decide how best to maintain the integrity of the academic program and determine whether and how certain courses will be taught in any given semester. This same discretion has been our long-term practice and has been exercised in making assignments for all faculty. Both current and former department chairs have told us that they view this flexibility as crucial to the academic functioning of the College. We simply cannot and will not guarantee specific course assignments to individuals in perpetuity, as the Union has proposed, as this would compromise our academic mission and the superb quality of the education we offer our students.
However, in order to address the Union’s concern regarding job security, we have offered two measures that would increase individuals’ employment security in other ways that do not compromise our mission. First, we have offered to move to year-long appointments for all part-time faculty, an improvement over our current semester-by-semester appointment process. Thus, part-time faculty would receive more advance notice, more predictable schedules, and the ability to plan their full academic year. Second, in deference to the Union’s notion that seniority should increase employment security, we have also introduced a proposal to offer adjunct faculty who have served the College over time the guarantee of either longer-term appointments or separation pay in the event that they are not reassigned teaching. More details: https://barnard.edu/hr/bcf-uaw
The College has twice modified its wage proposal since the Union’s response on December 15. Specifically, our latest proposal increases minimum course pay rates three times over four years and provides a 2 percent pay increase each year, beginning in fall 2017, for individuals making above the minimum course rate. More details: https://barnard.edu/hr/bcf-uaw
-negotiations/strike-faqs#prop osal. Under the College’s proposal, all adjunct faculty will be guaranteed improved economic terms throughout the life of the contract, and no unit member—even those earning well above the minimum per-course rate—will be negatively impacted. Furthermore, our proposed minimum rates are positioned to be competitive, and are significantly higher than minimum rates offered to adjunct faculty in many similar colleges and universities in New York City and in other high-cost areas in the United States.
In contrast, the Union’s proposal sets both minimum rates and benefit terms that are untenable. In the first year alone, the proposal would cost an incremental $3.3 million; it would force the College to make deep cuts to the annual budget that would adversely affect the academic program.
In addition to setting fair and equitable minimum wage rates, we have responded positively and demonstrably to the Union’s request that all unit faculty, including those working part-time, have the ability to participate in the College’s health insurance plan. For adjunct faculty teaching a half-time equivalent load or more (nine points or more in a given academic year), the College will contribute 50 percent of the contribution that it makes to full-time faculty. Adjunct faculty teaching less than 9 points in any given year would have the option to buy in to the College’s Plan A at their own personal cost.
The College has worked hard to bargain in good faith with the goal of ensuring our part-time and term faculty a fair and equitable contract that addresses their most important concerns. We are gratified that the Union has accepted our request for a federal mediator. We see the mediator role as a useful and time-honored resource for bridging remaining differences, and in so doing, serving our larger community. The process of mediation will take time. Should we find ourselves unable to reach a first contract by the February 21 strike deadline, and should the Union decide to strike, the College will continue to operate as normally as possible.
As has been the practice for the past year, I will continue to keep the community informed of our progress through written updates, as well as in-person meetings with faculty, staff, students and alumnae leaders. As always, please understand that our overarching goal remains a fair first contract that recognizes the talent and commitment of our contingent faculty, and that protects the vitality of the academic program and our core mission as an institution.
Linda A Bell
Provost & Dean of the Faculty