Wednesday, March 14, started well. Our negotiation team walked up the hill to the library and heard the cheers of supporters before we could see the people.
“What do we want? A contract! When do we want it? Now!”
Despite spring break, the library steps were lined with loads of supporters holding signs and cheering. Lecturers, tenure track faculty, and students had come to show solidarity with us. We moved into the library, buoyed by the supporters outside the room where we were scheduled to negotiate. Inside the room was a vase brimming with bright red roses and a card from several tenure track supporters who were unable to be there in person. All of the support was palpable!
But then the administration’s team was late. We received an email from John Wallin charging that we were in violation of the CBA and state law by engaging in a “job action.” (A job action would be strike or something similar.) The UNH police were called to the library. (We do not know who placed the call, but we know it was not library faculty. On Thursday, March 15, the library faculty wrote a letter to UNHLU denouncing this course of action and showing solidarity with us.) Upon arrival, the police saw that the people assembled were peacefully exercising their rights to free speech and free assembly. The police left. We were not intimidated by these efforts to trample on our community’s rights. Our supporters remained. Our negotiation team waited. Then the administration’s negotiating team said they couldn’t come to the session until their lawyer got to campus. The presence of our lawyer -- a member of our bargaining team who was at all of our negotiation sessions during negotiations for our first CBA -- was apparently now concerning to them.
We waited for 40 minutes. We then emailed John Wallin a declaration of impasse and left the room. We had hoped to discuss at the table our deep concerns about how the climate at UNH has become increasingly dark, threatening, and disrespectful. But, instead, we left the library and discussed this with our supporters outside.
We approached our negotiations in January, 2017 with hope for collaborative progress. Indeed, the two sides identified a set of shared issues that needed addressing. Our team submitted repeated proposals aimed at creative problem solving, but their team neither accepted these nor proposed their own. It has become abundantly clear to us – increasingly so in recent weeks -- that our faith in this process was misplaced.
We believe now, in retrospect, that the administration has acted in bad faith.
It was bad faith when they told us they were working closely with the deans on all aspects of a new contract deal, but some of these same deans do not seem to have any idea about our contract provisions and procedures.
It was bad faith when they blamed the deans for their inability to make contract changes, but those same deans were expressing concerns about contract provisions in their current form.
It was bad faith when they agreed to keep us apprised about layoffs but then didn’t.
It was bad faith -- and outright dishonesty -- when they blamed the union for “not allowing” the COLA dean to talk to the affected faculty members before they were terminated.
It was bad faith when they unilaterally changed the requirements to maintain one’s job! We were in negotiations when they did this, but they did not regard us with enough respect to address this with us.
It was bad faith for them to make the kinds of sweeping layoffs they made without even so much as mentioning this to the people they were at the table with.
It was bad faith that they did not utilize the options of transition to retirement and SIPs for the faculty who were laid off. Both of these options are possible under our CBA.
It was bad faith for them to lay off faculty with 15-20 years of service after they specifically told us in autumn that they would not do this! They said that we could trust them, as they never had terminated Lecturers with seniority. A rich irony is that one of the people who was used as their very example of someone they would not let go was among those who were cut!
It was bad faith for them to tell us in January they’d have a counter proposal to us within a week. What we got a week later was unprecedented cuts to our ranks.
A wide range of recent actions (and inactions) have shown us that the administration does not respect our union nor value us as colleagues. How could we continue to negotiate with an administration that refuses to acknowledge us as professional educators entitled to honest and forthright negotiations?
After declaring impasse, we now move to mediation, as required by the CBA. This will not be easy, but we are committed to bringing our members the best possible contract. Lecturer working conditions are student learning conditions. With the recent turn-over of administrators, now more than ever our students need the stability of their teaching faculty!
These are heavy times for us all. There are numerous struggles being fought by members of our community. We really are stronger together, in solidarity, working to uphold the values we share. The support we received on Wednesday is evidence of this.
In solidarity and strength, Catherine Moran UNHLU-AAUP President and Co-Lead Negotiator
UNHLU-AAUP is the union for lecturer faculty at the University of New Hampshire. The views and opinions expressed are those of UNHLU-AAUP and do not imply endorsement by UNH.