Angel Collins, JoMarie Alba and Lisa Hoferkamp hold signs supporting United Academics Thursday morning in the middle of a Glacier Highway roundabout near the University of Alaska Southeast campus in Juneau. The University of Alaska Board of Regents began a two-day meeting at UAS on Thursday. University of Alaska and the faculty union have not come to an agreement after over a year of negotiations. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Angel Collins, JoMarie Alba and Lisa Hoferkamp hold signs supporting United Academics Thursday morning in the middle of a Glacier Highway roundabout near the University of Alaska Southeast campus in Juneau. The University of Alaska Board of Regents began a two-day meeting at UAS on Thursday. University of Alaska and the faculty union have not come to an agreement after over a year of negotiations. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

Union rally greets university regents

Faculty union, supporters make presence felt morning of two-day meeting.

University of Alaska faculty union members and supporters made sure university regents saw red Thursday morning in Juneau.

A faculty union rally featuring scarlet-clad attendees was held in a roundabout near the University of Alaska Southeast Juneau campus ahead of a multi-day University of Alaska Board of Regents meeting.

The union and university have been in protracted negotiations for a new contract for more than a year with the parties entering federal mediation in late April, and the union filing an unfair labor practice complaint late last month. Recently, both sides have agreed to raises of 3%, 2.75% and 2.5% during the coming three years for the more than 1,000 employees represented by the union, although the latter two years are dependent on the consumer price index.

Optimism about whether a ratified contract is in the near-term future varied among the couple dozen faculty members and supporters in attendance.

“I’m hopeful,” said Kevin Maier, professor of English and environmental studies for UAS and a faculty union representative assembly member. “We have super representation.”

However, he noted it’s hard to tell exactly how things are going during federal mediation.

Jill Dumesnil, professor of mathematics for UAS and union executive board member, said based on union concessions there’s “very little reason they (the university) wouldn’t come to an agreement.” However, she said the university “wants it to be easier to terminate tenured faculty,” which could prove to be a sticking point.

“The ball is in their court,” Dumesnil said.

Abel Bult-Ito, professor of neurobiology and neurophysiology for University of Alaska Fairbanks and union president, said it’s difficult to gauge how well the process is going since hopes have been dashed in the past. He expressed disappointment with the attitude of university administration. Maier offered similar criticism saying, “they’re bringing kind of a corporate culture to the university that doesn’t work.”

Bult-Ito predicted the union would prevail in its unfair labor practice complaint, which would be a “black eye” for the administration and victory for the union.

He also said a strike is on the table, but he did not have a timeline for when such a decision might be made.

The next mediation session is scheduled for Sept. 19, and according to Robbie Graham, a University of Alaska spokesperson, the administration is reviewing a series of proposals presented by the union at an Aug. 31 mediation session.

“The recent UNAC filing with the Alaska Labor Relations Agency [ALRA] is normal administrative action when unions and management disagree,” Graham said in an email. “In fact, this provides a neutral process to resolve disagreements. The university will respond to the filing in the coming weeks, although it may take months for ALRA to issue its opinion.

“In the meantime, the university will continue to act and bargain in good faith and will continue to seek agreement on all issues — monetary and non-monetary.”

• Contact Ben Hohenstatt at (907)308-4895 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.

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