University of Alaska faculty union files unfair labor practice complaint

People in red stand in a line outside, holding sings that say "UNAC Faculty: an investment in Alaska"
University of Alaska faculty members and supporters hold a rally in front of the Alaska State Capitol on June 22, 2022. On Monday, the University of Alaska faculty union filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the University of Alaska administration. (Lisa Phu/Alaska Beacon)

The University of Alaska faculty union filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the University of Alaska administration on Monday. The two parties have been negotiating a new faculty contract for the past year.

The complaint, filed with the Alaska Labor Relations Agency, alleges the university administration unlawfully declared an impasse, illegally implemented its “best and final offer” and engaged in direct bargaining with the faculty through email updates, bypassing the negotiation team.

“We really didn’t want to go this path because it delays everything by several months. It is expensive for both parties and adds stress to our faculty when they realized that a new contract will not be in place for an extended period of time,” said Abel Bult-Ito, professor of neurobiology and neurophysiology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and president of the faculty union.

“It’s not good for anyone, but the university administration has been so unreasonable that we just have to follow this path,” he said.

The union has previously said filing an unfair labor practice complaint was an option, but delayed doing so to prevent escalating the situation, Bult-Ito said. At this point, though, the administration continues to drag out the mediation process.

“And so we want to increase the pressure on the university. They violated the law and that needs to be addressed,” he said.

Associate vice president of public affairs Robbie Graham, speaking on behalf of the administration, said the university administration is aware of the filing and is reviewing it.

“However, the university firmly believes that it has been bargaining in good faith from the earliest days of negotiations, and will continue to do so. Our public statements have been factual, providing appropriate transparency about the negotiations to the university community,” she said. 

Graham said the university will respond to the United Academics filing.

Salary concession

The two parties last met Aug. 22 in mediation. At that time, the administration did not accept the faculty union’s latest proposed contract and, instead, responded with another offer, which is confidential.

In the union’s latest contract proposal, the union made a concession by accepting the administration’s most recent compensation offer – increases of 3%, 2.75% and 2.5% over three years, which is slightly up from the original “best and final offer.”

The union originally asked for salary increases of 5%, between 3% and 7%, and between 3% and 6% over three years, with the latter two years’ increases determined by the consumer price index. 

The roughly 1,000 faculty union members have received one 1% increase over the past six years.

The two parties also disagreed on non-monetary issues regarding disciplinary procedures, academic freedom issues and inclusion of all bargaining unit members in all elements of the contract.

Alaska Labor Relations Agency process

Following an unfair labor practice complaint being filed, an Alaska Labor Relations Agency hearing officer will conduct an investigation and issue findings.

If the hearing officer finds that there is no probable cause to believe that an unfair labor practice occurred, then the officer will issue findings saying that and the case would be dismissed. A party has the option to appeal that decision to the board.

If the hearing officer finds there is probable cause to believe that an unfair labor practice occurred, then it would get referred to the board and the board would conduct a full hearing. After that, the board issues a decision that would determine whether an unfair labor practice had occurred and what the remedy is.

While this process plays out, the two parties can still reach an agreement. The two parties have another mediation session scheduled on Aug. 31. United Academics intends to participate despite filing the complaint.

“Absolutely,” said Bult-Ito. “We have and always will be bargaining in good faith, and we still want to get a joint agreement with the University. But this is one of the things that we can do to address the illegal conduct by the university administration.”

The university administration plans to be there as well, Graham said. “The university is committed to the mediation process with the expectation of finding common ground with the faculty union on the remaining issues.”

Alaska Beacon is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Alaska Beacon maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Andrew Kitchenman for questions: Follow Alaska Beacon on Facebook and Twitter.

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