UVM, faculty discuss contract impasse

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(Host) The University of Vermont and the Union that represents roughly 600 faculty members have declared an impasse in contract talks.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) After ten months of negotiations the two sides came to agreement on at least one point: the talks are stalled. The impasse means they’ll bring in a mediator to try and move the process along.

It also gives both sides the chance to talk openly about their differences for the first time since negotiations began. While there’s disagreement over pay, representatives of the university and the union say salaries aren’t the major sticking point in the negotiations.

UVM Assistant Professor Linda Backus is acting president of the United Academics Union. Backus says negotiators disagree on many specific points, but the underlying issue is a fundamental disagreement over how much say the faculty should have in university decisions. An example, she says, is the union demand that the university include in the contract an agreement that it will continue to follow existing UVM policies.

(Backus) “And that if they violate those things, that will be an opportunity for a faculty member to have a grievance. But they’re saying no. All through the whole thing, they’re saying, No opportunity for grievance. We just make the decision and you have to abide by it.’ So the whole concept of faculty input in decision making is something we’re putting all through this because we believe that they should have a voice in what’s happening.”

(Zind) UVM Provost John Bramley agrees that there are substantial differences between the two sides but he calls the university’s contract proposal eminently reasonable. He says UVM can’t agree to make past practices part of the contract. Bramley says the university should be able to alter policies as times change.

(Bramley) “We have really proposed that we need to have the flexibility that allows us to respond to changing enrollment patterns, changing demand, changing circumstances and so on. The union’s perspective is that we should agree to a contract which endorses past practices. I don’t know, Steve, of any industry in this competitive world that’s going to thrive and prosper if it endorses past practice without the flexibility to change. That’s a big issue for us.”

(Zind) If the parties fail to reach an agreement under a mediator, a fact-finding panel would step in and recommend contract terms. If that doesn’t work, the Vermont Labor Relations Board could impose a contract agreement.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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