University of Alaska regents approve faculty pay increases. But the union says negotiations aren’t over.

The University of Alaska Southeast campus in Juneau, shown on July 25, 2019 (David Purdy/KTOO)
The University of Alaska Southeast campus in Juneau, shown on July 25, 2019 (David Purdy/KTOO)

The University of Alaska Board of Regents has taken unilateral action to increase salaries for its full-time faculty, despite ongoing federal mediation with the faculty’s union on a new collective bargaining agreement.

“This is an unusual step for sure,” said UA President Pat Pitney about the unprecedented action approved by the regents during a special meeting Monday.

Pitney said mediation has failed to bring the university and United Academics, or UNAN, significantly closer together on the terms of a new three-year collective bargaining agreement.

“And so last Friday we declared that we were at impasse,” said Pitney.

With time running out to get a new contract approved and funded by the Legislature before the session ends, Pitney said the university feels compelled to act.

“It is the eleventh and a half hour,” she said.

UA faculty have only received a 1% raise over the past 5 years, and among provisions in the faculty contract submitted to the Legislature is a 3.5% salary hike for the new fiscal year which starts July 1, followed by 2.5% and 2% raises the following two years. Pitney said the increases are consistent with those in other UA employee agreements before the Legislature.

“UNAC”s compensation and benefits position by contrast was more than 4 times the level the university is offering, unsustainable by any standard,” she said.

Tony Rickard is a professor of mathematics education at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and chief negotiator for United Academics. He said the union has adjusted its proposals to try to reach an agreement and wants to keep talking.

“This a very puzzling action by President Pitney and the Board of Regents,” said Rickard. “They seem to think that the mediation is over, and it’s not. We mutually agreed to a session that we have yet to have.”

Rickard said UNAC will be at the third and final mediation session scheduled for Wednesday.

“And we expect the university to be there too,” Rickard said.

It’s unclear if the university will attend, but UA lead negotiator David Eisenberg told regents on Monday that declaring an impasse only means the university is not legally required to keep negotiating.

“That said, obviously we are going to receive and consider any reasonable proposals from the union,” said Eisenberg.

There’s some speculation that a UA faculty contract could be considered by the Legislature outside the regular session, but Pitney said a special session is unlikely in an election year.

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Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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