UVM reaches new 3-year contract with faculty union

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BURLINGTON — After more than a year of difficult negotiations the University of Vermont and its faculty union have reached an agreement that will boost salaries 8.5 percent over the course of the new three-year deal.

Pay levels were the only sticking point when UVM and the union, United Academics, entered the fact-finding process in March. The final salary rate was described as roughly the midpoint between what each side had been seeking.

"The fact finder's recommendation was more than anything the administration had offered, and it would be extremely unlikely for the Vermont Labor Relations Board to offer anything different," said Tom Streeter, president of the faculty union.

The fact finder's report is non-binding and if it was rejected, the dispute likely would have gone to the Labor Relations Board for a final ruling.

"We settled at the fact finder's recommendation," Streeter said. "The administration was faced with the same calculus, which I assume is why they also quickly agreed to go with the fact finder's recommendations."

United Academics represents about 725 full-time faculty at the university. The last three-year contract expired in July and an impasse was declared last fall. At that point an outside mediator was brought in to try to reach a deal.

A UVM spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment and the school has yet to release a statement regarding the agreement.

Fact finder Michael Ryan produced the report that led to the compromise deal. He also had been the fact finder in negotiations between the Burlington School Board and the Burlington Education Association last fall.

In a February press release, UVM spokesperson Enrique Corredera said the university's proposed 6 percent salary increase over three years was in line with increases at similar universities, as shown by an Oklahoma State University annual survey of faculty salaries.

In his report, Ryan took issue with the university's use of the Oklahoma State survey because the universities that were included had little in common with UVM.

"[There] is a continuing need to increase the bargaining unit's salaries to be more in line with their comparable peers," he stated in the report, according to a prepared statement from United Academics, "Objectivity balks at [the use of the Oklahoma study]," Ryan was quoted as saying.

According to Streeter, Ryan agreed with the union that UVM faculty are paid below the national market and that the university should be working on changing that.

One situation that made negotiations more difficult was the past year's financial struggles of the College of Arts and Sciences.

In the midst of the contract talks, the college cut 12 courses and announced that 25 percent of part-time non-tenured faculty positions and 40 percent of full-time non-tenured faculty positions would be trimmed over the next five years. Those moves were designed to recover from a $4 million loss as a result of financial changes under a new budget model, Incentive Based Budgeting.

Throughout the fall and the winter, the union led teach-ins and protests and argued the university was on strong financial footing — a claim that was also backed in Ryan's report.

Union members accused the school of focusing too much on image and using funds on major infrastructure projects to attract more students rather than on sharpening academics.

The two parties had begun negotiating in February 2017.

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