As we cover this story, it is important for readers to know that negotiations are ongoing. Information in this article is subject to change.
It has been three months since administration and professors on campus have been unable to come to an agreement on the restructuring of a new contract, which expired over the summer on June 30. The professors, who are represented by the University of San Francisco Faculty Association (USFFA), are seeking a variety of new legislature, although salary increase is a point of emphasis for the union.
Although the contract expired over the summer, professors are not currently working with the threat of losing their job or losing benefits “When a contract ends, it doesn’t mean that the entire contract expires, but rather that benefits and economic items such as salary expire, and those need to be renegotiated,” said Elliot Neaman, who serves as president for the USFFA and also teaches history at USF. Neaman has been involved with the professor’s union for 17 years now, beginning in 1999 as vice president and then president from 2005 onward.
The current negotiating list has gone through an extensive vetting process by professors and USFFA Policy Board members, who began to review the negotiations in fall of 2015. Policy Board members represent professors in each school and college at USF. At the time, Neaman urged professors to actively participate in discussions and online surveys so that proposals included in the final bargaining list could best illustrate what professors prioritized. “Our aim is to devise a carefully considered, collectively designed plan that will achieve maximum success at the bargaining table,” said Neaman.
Based on the feedback received and the ongoing discussions that followed, the union decided that a four percent salary increase was a fair bargaining item, especially considering the housing market of San Francisco. Trulia, an online residential real estate website that provides price trend information by using listing and public data, recently dubbed the Bay Area, the “least affordable area” in the United States to live. Median home prices in San Francisco proper fetch $1.15 million, according to Trulia, with median rents hover around $4,500 a month for all apartments.
“It’s a huge problem, and it’s certainly an issue we take into account when we devise our salary proposal,” said Neaman. “We are losing professors who, unless they come with two earners or they have healthy financial resources, look at the cost of housing […] and often turn around and say ‘As much as we’d like to come to USF, we’re just not going to be able to stay.’”
During bargaining in July, the USFFA agreed to reduce the asking salary increase from four percent to 3.5 percent, something Neaman said showed the union’s flexibility and willingness to compromise.
As of right now, the union and their members have a chance to accept an offer from administration that includes a raise in salary, but not the four percent that was originally on the bargaining list or the 3.5 percent that was later re-examined.
“USFFA is conducting a survey of our members to see if they would accept the current offer that’s on the table, which includes a two percent salary increase,” said Neaman. He, along with the rest of the negotiating team, deem the offer “not acceptable because it is under the rate of inflation and is under the raises that our comparative schools have gotten recently,” he said. Neaman and the rest of the Policy Board will not recommend the faculty members accept the offer as it stands. “The University has not changed its two percent offer, so right now we’re one and half percent off,” said Neaman.
Next steps for the union include addressing the status of contract negotiations to the USF community. “The University of San Francisco Faculty association is considering all options for communicating to the University about the dissatisfaction with the current offers, and right now what we’re going to do is still in the planning stages. I’m not at liberty to say what exactly we’re going to do, but the general idea is to go public with our perspective on what the administration is offering,” said Neaman.
Currently, plans include wearing buttons that say “Remember: Respect Your Faculty.” If these are seen around campus, it is important to note that the message is directed toward administration and not students, although it could easily be misinterpreted. As for administration, the belief is that ongoing talks are favorable since more than half of the bargaining items have already been negotiated upon.
Although 18 of the 30 items are already agreed upon, administration would like to focus on the continued negotiation before commenting on the specifics of the negotiative dialogues or the details of the contract. “The University greatly values each member of the university community, including our USFFA members,” said Ellen Ryder, university spokesperson and vice president for marketing communications. “We are committed to fair and meaningful total compensation and innovative teaching and learning. We will continue to work toward this end to reach a fair and equitable agreement to meet the needs of our students, faculty, librarians, staff and the greater university,” she said.
Both sides maintain that talks have been cordial, with Neaman described the negotiations “a good collaborative relationship,” with Ryder saying that negotiations will continue “in good faith.”
PHOTO CREDIT: RACQUEL GONZALES/FOGHORN
“We share with one another relevant and requested information and data. Together we work to address issues at USF and in higher education,” Ryder said in a statement sent to The Foghorn.“There haven’t been any fights about anything, there hasn’t really been any tension. It’s just a basic disagreement about how the budget is going to be allocated,” said Neaman.