Negotiation Update and Call to Action

Letter to the Faculty from WMU-AAUP President Lisa Minnick
August 19, 2014

Negotiation Update and Invitation to Demonstration for Solidarity


As all good things must come to an end, the days are getting shorter and the end of the summer approaches. Similarly, the spirit of collegiality that we have strived for at the bargaining table since the beginning of our negotiations is becoming strained. After lengthy delays in providing us with the information we requested beginning in January about employee healthcare at WMU (some of which still has yet to be provided), the administration finally brought to the table last week their first specific proposal on the topic of faculty and retiree health insurance benefits. Despite the growing tension, our WMU-AAUP negotiation team continues to approach each bargaining session with the utmost professionalism and with the same thoughtful and meticulous preparation they have demonstrated throughout the negotiation process thus far.

The healthcare proposal that the administration brought to our team last week would shift a much greater share of the costs of our health insurance onto us and away from the employer, escalating a trend that has been underway for a number of years at WMU. As we reported in the July 1 negotiation update, board-appointed faculty already pay the highest insurance premiums of any employee group at WMU, a rate that is the same as what senior administrative officers pay, even though the median and mean salaries of that employee group are of course significantly greater than ours.

Additionally, the administration proposed last week to cut and eventually eliminate retiree health benefits for the overwhelming majority of current faculty and not to offer it at all to new faculty hires beginning in 2015. Today, they reversed their position on current faculty and agreed to continue to provide existing retiree health benefits, as outlined in Article 33, to all current faculty but are still proposing not to offer it to new hires beginning next year. (For information about these retirement health benefits, please see the 2011-14 Agreement, linked here, and scroll to Article 33.)

You can read our summary and analysis of the administration’s proposal here. You can see the administration’s proposal in its entirety here.

Our team has made clear that they cannot in good conscience support what is being proposed. Last Friday, the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee, comprising the chapter officers and your elected faculty representatives from each college, in consultation with our team, voted unanimously to reject the proposal.

As we have noted throughout this process, the members of our team, individually and collectively, are committed to conducting themselves according to the highest standards of professionalism. And from day one they have delivered, basing their proposals on research-based inquiry and evidence-based argumentation, as is appropriate in proceedings at an institution of higher learning. They have not wavered from their commitment to honoring the values that function as our guiding principles as faculty members: free inquiry, academic excellence, shared governance, collaboration, and transparency. And they have made it clear that they have no intention of wavering now or at any time in the future.

Our team continues to insist on mutually respectful proceedings, and this includes when it comes to the nature of the proposals that the two sides bring forward for consideration at the table. The faculty must be treated as the respected members of the university community that we know we are. The university must hold up its end of the bargain by honoring the commitments it has made to all of us, just as we honor our commitments to the institution and to its many stakeholders, often in ways that go far beyond what we are paid or contracted to do and often at significant personal cost. We serve this university because we believe deeply in its mission and in our charge to carry out that mission. We give of ourselves in ways that cannot be quantified or counted but that must never be taken for granted nor cynically exploited. Unfortunately, too often, they are. We are.

Because of the insistence of our WMU-AAUP team on fair and respectful treatment of the faculty, it is possible that negotiations may continue into September before we come to agreement on the remaining contract articles, which include healthcare, compensation, and workload.

Let me be clear about this: A delayed resolution is not what our team wants. (That they also did not want a delayed start to the bargaining and informed the administration in February that they were ready to begin on March 28 would be immaterial, except that the administration’s team would now like to try to hold us responsible for delays in progress at the table. If we would just agree to everything they want, they seem to suggest, we could have finished up months ago.) Like all of us, Cynthia, Bilinda, Tom, and Onaiwu have classes to prepare for, new students to meet, and all the demands of their work as faculty members awaiting their return from the table. But they will not settle for a new contract that chips away at our professional autonomy, places at risk the academic mission of the institution, or imposes a level of compensation that disregards or devalues our role in the success of this university.

But our team needs your help if they are to achieve the goals that we as the faculty have set out for them, and the time has come for us to deliver on their behalf and to begin the process of making sure our voices are heard loudly and clearly.

I am not speaking metaphorically here: I am asking you to join us at noon on Thursday, August 28, for a demonstration of solidarity in front of the Seibert administration building.

All board-appointed faculty colleagues are strongly urged to attend, as are family members, retirees, and colleagues from other WMU employee groups who wish to show their solidarity. We also welcome students, alumni, and community members who value the work we do on behalf of Western Michigan University and on behalf of this community.

After today, to accommodate the vacation plans of a key member of the administration’s team, the two teams will not meet again until August 28. I urge you to join me on that date to make the case for honoring commitments, for treating all members of the university community with dignity and respect, and for compensating us fairly for the work we do here.

When I began work here 10 years ago this month, I could not have been more proud to be a member of the board-appointed faculty of Western Michigan University and to be a member of the WMU chapter of the American Association of University Professors. Like many of you, my family and I had to make hard choices and real sacrifices so that we could come here. My husband was generous: He gave up his secure, fulfilling, and good-paying job in Atlanta, one that offered promising opportunities for advancement, so that I could accept my first-choice job offer. He took a significant cut in pay in order to do so. He has since started his own business here in Kalamazoo, and among his employees today is a wonderful WMU alumnus who started when he was an undergraduate student working part time, stayed on through his graduate program, and now works full time with the company.

One of the best things about the job of chapter president is the opportunity to meet and get to know colleagues all over campus with whom I might not otherwise have crossed paths. Having spoken with many of you over the past year, I know that a lot of you have stories like mine, or variations on the theme. Our families – yours, mine, all of ours – have given much to this community and to WMU, most of it completely unknown, unacknowledged, and unsung outside our own homes. For our term-appointed colleagues, the sacrifices are just as great, yet the rewards are fewer. But I know I speak for many of our colleagues when I say that we are proud to serve and to give of ourselves in this way.

But that does not mean we will stand by and allow ourselves to be treated disrespectfully or to be pressured into making bad decisions out of fear. On the contrary, it is all the more reason why we will not and why our team will not give in to unreasonable and insulting demands. We will never stop being respectful or professional. That is who we are. As the board-appointed faculty of this university, we understand the high standards we must uphold and model for our students and for the community, and I am proud to serve and to stand with all of you.

But we will absolutely not stand for it if our respect for this institution is not reciprocated, or if there is any chance that commitments made to us will not be honored.

I look forward to seeing you all on August 28.

#GoWMUAAUP     #StrongerTogether

In solidarity,


Tentative Agreements Reached on Governance Articles

Negotiation Update for July 29:
Tentative Agreements Reached on Governance and Due Process Articles

We are pleased to announce that on July 29, the WMU-AAUP and administration bargaining teams reached the first tentative agreements of the 2014 negotiations, on several contractual articles covering shared governance and faculty rights to due process.

Article 37: Long-Range Planning. As we reported in the July 1 negotiation update, the existing language in Article 37 articulates the faculty’s right to participate in long-range and strategic planning. Our team has made a strong case at the table this summer for strengthening the language that codifies the chapter’s right to representation. This right to representation is critical to shared governance because WMU-AAUP appointees on university committees consult regularly with the chapter’s Executive Committee (an elected body of faculty representatives from each college) to ensure that the activities and recommendations of the committee comport with the Agreement. Upon ratification by the faculty and the Board of Trustees, the revisions to Article 37 will also help to resolve ambiguities that in the past have made it more difficulty for the faculty, and the WMU-AAUP on its behalf, from exercising its full rights to shared governance.

Article 12: Grievance Procedure. The two teams have reached tentative agreement on revisions to Article 12 that will enhance faculty rights to grieve administrative actions and expand the right to pursue arbitration, an avenue that has up to now not been available for all categories of grievances. Our WMU-AAUP team made a compelling and ultimately successful case at the table for extending the right to arbitrate to all grievance types.

Article 25: Layoff and Recall. The tentative agreement on Article 25 is related to the changes to Article 12 outlined above. The new language provides a framework for grieving layoff decisions, which had previously been exempted from grievance challenges. In light of concerns expressed by a number of colleagues over the possibility of a reduction in force resulting from the academic program review, our WMU-AAUP team worked hard to make the case that the right to grieve layoff decisions was essential and that codifying it in the contract was the right thing to do, and they were able to convince the administration’s team to agree to the changes.

Preamble. After extensive discussion at the table, the two sides have now reached a tentative agreement on a new preamble. Our team brought the first draft to the table back in May with the goal of setting out the core values of the university’s academic mission, including academic freedom, shared governance, and collaboration, as a way the faculty and administration could affirm our mutual commitment to these values, use them as guiding principles, and model them for our students and for the benefit of the institution. After months of discussion and deliberation, the two teams have reached tentative agreement on a version that clearly articulates these values.

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Please join the chapter officers and Executive Committee in congratulating our team for achieving consensus on these critical articles in ways that will expand and strengthen our rights as faculty members. Cynthia, Bilinda, Onaiwu, and Tom have made a point of honoring the values of the board-appointed faculty as you all have articulated them to us: free inquiry, academic excellence, shared governance, collaboration, and transparency. Looking to these values as their guiding principles, they have not wavered in asserting them on our behalf. While compromise is of course a key element of bargaining, the team has made clear from the beginning that our core values are non-negotiable. This commitment not only serves the faculty, but as our team continues to demonstrate at the table, it also serves our students and the institution.

We also appreciate the administration team’s willingness to hear us out and take seriously these governance and due-process issues. Their tentative agreement to the revisions discussed herein is an encouraging sign that we can work together successfully in the service of our mutual charge: to promote the conditions of free inquiry, to advance the sum of human knowledge and understanding, to promote these values within and beyond the institution, and to serve the public interest.

As always, you can get negotiation news here on the blog, by “liking” the WMU-AAUP on Facebook, and by following us on Twitter. And on behalf of the team, the chapter officers, and the Executive Committee, many thanks once again to all of you who have generously offered your wise counsel and messages of support.

#GoWMUAAUP          #StrongerTogether






WMU-AAUP Remarks to the Board of Trustees

Address by WMU-AAUP President Lisa Minnick

Meeting of the WMU Board of Trustees
July 23, 2014

I’d like to share with you today a brief update from the faculty’s perspective on the contract negotiations that have been underway for the past few months between the university administration and the board-appointed faculty.

Since my last report to the board, on June 10, the two bargaining teams have made progress on a number of issues concerning shared governance. As part of last month’s report, I shared with the board a packet of information that included a draft of a new preamble to the contract, proposed by the WMU-AAUP bargaining team. As I mentioned at that time, we saw the proposed new preamble language as not only a philosophical statement but also as a summary of guiding principles going forward for what the faculty hopes will be a revitalized collaborative relationship between faculty and administration. In that spirit, the original draft preamble set out what we hoped would come to be a mutual understanding of how the stakeholders in university governance – including the faculty as well as the administration – can best and most effectively approach our responsibilities to our students and to the overall mission of the institution.

The draft preamble that the WMU-AAUP team brought to the table was in part a declaration of the core values of the university’s academic mission, as the faculty sees it, emphasizing academic freedom, shared governance, and collaboration between faculty and administration. Their goal was to affirm our mutual commitment to modeling these values for our students and for the benefit of the institution.

During the 2011 negotiations, the WMU-AAUP and administration teams collaborated on a major revision to the contract article on academic freedom, Article 13. The faculty felt that the article should articulate more clearly a vision for academic freedom as a guiding principle for our work as teachers, researchers, creative artists, participants in the governance of the institution, and in service to the community and to the profession. The 2011 WMU-AAUP negotiation team brought a draft to the bargaining table that reflected these values.

Consensus at the table came neither easily nor immediately. The conversation became heated at times. But the negotiation process was thoughtful and deliberative and engaged the features of respectful academic discourse at its best, in ways that institutions of higher learning, when they are at their best, set out to model not only for students but also for the community and for the wider culture.

To put the process into more concrete terms: We – meaning both teams, faculty and administration – conducted research into the best ideas and practices we could find to help us find the language we needed to delineate and affirm the values associated with academic freedom. We wrote drafts, made arguments and counter-arguments. We supported our claims with evidence, revised our drafts and re-envisioned our objectives, argued and debated and disagreed but also listened carefully, thought critically, reconsidered, and re-imagined.

And finally, in July 2011, we reached consensus on a version of Article 13 that today codifies a set of beliefs and values that it turns out had been guiding all of us, faculty and administration, all along. It turned out that “academic freedom” represents not the abstraction that it is sometimes assumed to be but a set of shared cultural practices and values that are (and I am paraphrasing Article 13 here), fundamental to the common mission of universities in general and to Western Michigan University in particular. These practices and values include our mutual charge, as outlined in Article 13, to promote free inquiry and to advance the sum of human knowledge and understanding.

“Academic freedom,” we wrote three years ago – the faculty and administration teams wrote this together – “exists as a basic prerequisite for universities to fulfill their mission to our society.” At the table in 2011, our two teams reached the consensus that we all share an important “obligation to promote conditions of free inquiry and to further public understanding of academic freedom.”

Now, in 2014, discussions at the table of the draft preamble and several governance-related contract articles have evolved over the past several months in ways that once again highlight scholarly discourse at its best. Once again, our two teams have done the difficult work of deliberation and compromise in ways that illustrate precisely how we can all live up to the objectives set out in the latest version of the preamble, upon which we are close to agreement. While the WMU-AAUP team brought the original draft to the table, I would characterize the current, evolved version of the preamble as a jointly authored document that reflects a set of values that both teams and the constituencies they represent hold in common.

Emphasizing inclusion, civil discourse, and shared governance, including in the service of continually improving the quality of education and research at Western Michigan University, this document expresses in a powerful way the joint commitment of the faculty and administration to the obligations set out in 2011 in Article 13: to promote the conditions of free inquiry, to advance the sum of human knowledge and understanding, to promote these values beyond the walls of the institution, and to serve the public interest.

At a time when disinvestment in public higher education has come to be the new normal, when students and their families are struggling to make up the difference as the costs are transferred from all of us collectively as taxpayers to the individual end-users (also known as students); when pundits and political figures, from the President of the United States to state legislatures, are emphasizing individual financial return on investment as what a college education is supposed to be for and de-emphasizing the advancement of human knowledge that most of the people in this room have made their life’s work; and when the result of all this is that many of our fellow citizens in Michigan and nationwide are becoming less and less likely to see themselves as beneficiaries of any education but their own, the charge set out in Article 13 for all of us as a university faculty and administration takes on a new significance.

I hope as stakeholders in an institution of higher learning that together we will challenge the ideologies that assume investment in education is or ought to be an individual thing, that the point of education is an exclusively individual benefit, and that the benefit can only be measured as a return on investment that can be counted only in dollars.

During the negotiations now underway, the chapter leadership of the WMU-AAUP has emphasized with our faculty colleagues the theme that we are stronger together. There will surely be more challenges and new disagreements going forward, especially when the conversation turns to economic topics. But the progress at the bargaining table on shared-governance articles, for which we credit not only the WMU-AAUP team’s persistence but also the administration team’s willingness to hear us out and take these governance issues as seriously as we do, helps not only to illustrate how much common ground we all actually share but also to suggest a way forward in which we are all – faculty, staff, administration, students, trustees, alumni, and everyone else with a stake in this enterprise – stronger together.

Chapter meeting TOMORROW (July 18) and email issue

WMU-AAUP Chapter Meeting | 1:30-3:30 p.m. | 157-159 Bernhard Center

As you may be aware, WMU-AAUP emails are being blocked as spam by WMU’s network provider, Merit Network, which for the past week has made it impossible for us to communicate electronically with the faculty in the usual way. Earlier this week, as this issue began to play out, we attempted to get the word out to all WMU-AAUP bargaining-unit members about our chapter meeting tomorrow via your department representatives. Thanks to all who helped to disseminate that message earlier this week.

Earlier today, we contacted the board-appointed faculty using each college’s faculty-group email address to make sure all members of the bargaining unit are aware of the chapter meeting tomorrow and receive the news from us about some recent developments at the bargaining table. It is not the ideal solution, and it is only a temporary one, but with the chapter meeting coming up tomorrow and critical issues on the bargaining table that we need to discuss with our members, we needed to be able to get information out to the faculty ASAP.

Using the college faculty-group lists, we believe that we have now successfully reached the faculty in all colleges except for Aviation, Engineering & Applied Sciences, and Fine Arts, for which we do not have functioning faculty-group email addresses. For faculty in these colleges, we have contacted the WMU-AAUP Association Council representatives for each department and asked them to forward today’s message to the board-appointed faculty members in their respective departments. All other members of the bargaining unit should have received it directly during business hours today (Thursday, July 17).

A version of the message below went out via Association Council reps earlier this week. In addition to wanting to make sure everyone receives it, we also have a bit of additional information to add today (regarding the administration’s announcement that it intends to change to a 24-pays schedule from the current 26-pays arrangement), so even if you saw it on Monday or Tuesday, you might want to check out this updated version now.

Here’s the skinny:

Please join us for the chapter meeting tomorrow — Friday, July 18) — 1:30-3:30 p.m. We will meet in rooms 157-159 of the Bernhard Center to discuss our ongoing contract negotiations.

Agenda for July 18 chapter meeting:

  • The main agenda items will be compensation and healthcare. As most of you know from their email to the faculty last Friday, the administration intends to propose a “high deductible” health plan (HDHP) as an option for WMU faculty and staff beginning in 2016. Although the administration has yet to share the specifics of their plan, we have put together some resources for colleagues who are interested in learning more now. Please visit this link for information about HDHPs here on the blog and for links to a relevant resources from a variety of perspectives. The same information is also available in a hard-copy WMU-AAUP Bulletin sent out earlier this week to campus mailboxes and in a pdf attachment to today’s email message to the faculty as well (available here).
  • Shared governance and the academic mission of the university will also be on the agenda, especially the status at the bargaining table of articles related to those issues. In light of recent developments at the table and the administration’s email to the faculty last week, which contained a surprisingly candid dismissal of the importance of discussing articles at the table that are central to such core academic values, it is important that we address these topics at the chapter meeting tomorrow.
  • The administration’s plan to switch from 26 pays per year to 24 has generated a lot of feedback from colleagues regarding this proposal, a number of whom have identified compelling issues that affect members of our faculty in ways that make it critically important that we discuss this topic tomorrow at the chapter meeting.

On behalf of your WMU-AAUP negotiation team and chapter leadership, we extend our thanks to those of you who have generously shared your knowledge and expertise in the areas under discussion at the table. This negotiation is truly a collaborative effort, and your help continues to be welcome, gratefully received, and highly valued. We will of course continue to share information with you regarding progress at the table, and we hope to see all of you tomorrow at this very important chapter meeting.

And thanks once again to all of you who have shared your feedback, support, and expressions of solidarity. Things are starting to get interesting at the table, but your team is well prepared, disciplined, and unfazed. Please do come talk with them tomorrow.

#StrongerTogether               #GoWMUAAUP


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Information about high-deductible health plans

Last week, the administration’s negotiation team informed the WMU-AAUP team that they are interested in introducing a “high deductible” health plan (HDHP) as an option for WMU faculty and staff beginning in 2016. We are currently covered under a preferred-provider organization plan (PPO). Faculty members also received an email from the administration’s team last Friday, July 11, to announce their plan to introduce HDHPs at WMU. So far, the administration has presented only hypotheticals at the table but has not shared any specifics about how HDHPs would work at WMU, what participation in a HDHP would cost those electing such an option, or how the coverage would work.

However, the WMU-AAUP chapter leadership and our negotiation team have been following trends in employer-based health benefits for many months in preparation for the contract negotiations now underway, and given the national trends among large employers, we expected that the administration would be interested in pursuing HDHP plans. To prepare for negotiations, we have been conducting research and working with experts, including a healthcare consultant brought in to work with the team. Additionally, faculty colleagues with applicable expertise have been generous with their knowledge and continue to help ensure that we are well prepared for this discussion at the table.

Therefore, even though we don’t know yet what the plan the administration intends to bring to the faculty is going to look like, we are prepared to provide information for colleagues wondering what this development might mean. We have put together the collection of resources below for those who are interested in learning more now, and we will continue to share information with the faculty as it becomes available.

On a related note, we also want to encourage you to attend the special chapter meeting on Friday, July 18, 1:30-3:30 p.m., in rooms 157-159 of the Bernhard Center. Healthcare will be very much on the agenda, and we hope all bargaining unit members will attend this important meeting.

Now, about HDHPs.

Below is an outline of some of the central features of HDHPs, including a rundown of advantages and disadvantages for workers enrolled in high-deductible plans. At the bottom of this post is an annotated bibliography of sources for further reading.

Some background on HDHPs:

  • Employers are increasingly attracted to HDHPs in order to save themselves money.
  • While employers often cite the Affordable Care Act as the driving force behind the increasing popularity of HDHPs, some industry experts have observed that the move toward arrangements for health coverage that increasingly shift costs to employees predates the ACA.
  • This attempt to shift more of the costs of healthcare away from employers and onto workers is analogous to the trend in retirement benefits over the past several decades, with many public- and private-sector employers nationwide moving from “defined benefit” plans to “defined contribution” plans, in which the employee contribution to retirement has increased while the employer’s share has decreased.

What are some advantages of HDHPs?

  • Premiums for HDHPs are often lower than those for PPOs.
  • Healthy workers who opt for a lower premium and higher deductible can save money if they do not become ill or suffer an injury.
  • Workers with HDHPs can open a health savings account (HSA) and get a tax break on what they contribute to it. (This is primarily a benefit for higher-income workers who don’t need to use their entire paycheck to live on and can afford to put money in an HSA.)
  • Employee contributions to HSAs are pre-tax and withdrawals for qualified medical expenses are not taxed. (Withdrawals for non-medical expenses before age 65 incur a 20 percent tax penalty. After age 65, non-medical withdrawals are treated as regular income for tax purposes.)
  • The money a worker puts into an HSA account rolls over from year to year, so the worker keeps those contributions even if he or she doesn’t use it all to pay for medical expenses by the end of the year.
  • Employees can take their HSAs with them if they change jobs or when they retire.

What are the downsides of HDHPs?

  • In contrast to PPOs, HDHPs shift more of the financial risk for health coverage from the employer to the employee.
  • Compared to employees covered under PPOs, workers with HDHPs face much higher out-of-pocket costs when they or members of their family need medical attention.
  • Participants in HDHPs may be more likely to delay needed care because of the high out-of-pocket costs.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages HDHPs for families with children, citing concerns that parents might delay seeking care for a child because they haven’t yet met their deductible and can’t afford the out-of-pocket costs. In a May 2014 policy statement, the AAP said that “high-deductible health plans decrease health care expenditures, but at the cost of quality of care, continuity of care, and accessibility to care” especially for children, and especially those with special needs and from non-affluent families.
  • HDHP employees are basically self-insuring, paying their own claims out of pocket until they meet their deductible.
  • They can also end up spending a lot of time wrangling with the insurance company to make sure all their payments are applied accurately to their deductible.
  • Enrollees in HDHPs often see a major increase in the paperwork they must complete when they need care over what was required for their PPO.
  • In case of unexpected health crises, such as accident or serious illness, enrollees could end up having to write a very big check, which can create significant financial hardship, especially for those who are not high earners.

In sum, HDHPs are great for employers, who expect to save a lot of money by implementing them alongside PPOs. Employers can save even more by replacing the PPO option entirely with HDHPs. The WMU administration has said that this is not their intent, but HDHP-only employers are increasing in numbers nationwide, so it is hard to imagine that they are not thinking about going to an HDHP-only system at some point in the future.

As an employee, you might be able to save money by electing an HDHP, as long as you are young and healthy and don’t have children and never get sick or injured. But if you’re not young, if you have any health problems, or if you have a family, HDHPs can be a risky and expensive proposition.

For further reading:

Beware of pitfalls in high-deductible health plans, by Beth Pinsker. Reuters, November 26, 2013.

Discusses high out-of-pocket costs for illness or injury, problems associated with billing and coding errors, unexplained charges and fees, and and the need for – and difficulty of – employees to become “billing experts” and advocates on their own behalf. (As one expert quoted in the article puts it, “These plans are putting people in the driver’s seat, but without GPS.”)

Rise of high-deductible health plans tied to savings accounts alarms some, by Michael Austin. Dallas Morning News, October 18, 2013.

Discusses the trend of employers increasingly favoring HDHPs and the pros and cons for employees. Includes information on the connection between the shift to HDHPs and the advent of workplace wellness programs.

High-deductible health plans are a growing trend for employers, by Jim Fuquay. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, September 28, 2013.

Outlines how HDHPs work, including pros and cons for employees and real-life examples.

Envisioning the End of Employer-Provided Health Plans, by Neil Irwin. New York Times, May 1, 2014.

Will a high-deductible health plan save you money? by Constance Gustke,

Large Companies Are Increasingly Offering Workers Only High Deductible Health Plans, by Michelle Andrews. Kaiser Health News, March 26, 2013.

Discusses the growing trend among employers toward the implementation of HDHPs as the only option for workers. Reports on a meta-analysis of research findings on HDHPs that suggests that such plans “reduced total health-care spending by 5 to 14 percent” but that “The reductions were concentrated among healthier enrollees and were mainly due to lower spending on prescription drugs and outpatient care.” The authors of the study report that “Results were mixed on whether people in such plans cut back indiscriminately on both necessary and unnecessary care, as earlier research has found.” (The full analysis by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is linked here.)

Brace for jarring health care costs, by Jim Landers. Dallas Morning News, June 30, 2014.

Discusses HDHPs and some of the unexpected problems and extra costs that can arise for the insured.

Analysis of High Deductible Health Plans. RAND Corporation.

RAND: “Lower spending observed in HDHPs may be the result of favorable selection, that is, [HDHPs] may attract a higher proportion of healthier enrollees. A major limitation of studies comparing health care spending between HDHPs and more traditional plans is that they cannot completely control for the possibility that individuals who enroll in HDHPs are healthier overall than those who choose traditional plans. As a result, some portion of lower health care spending may occur because HDHP enrollees are healthier on average than enrollees in traditional plans.

“If healthier employees shift to HDHPs, comprehensive plans may increase premiums to account for the higher expected costs among the remaining enrollees. Such adverse selection might be ameliorated or eliminated if the employer subsidizes the costs of the comprehensive plan or if the employer offers only an HDHP.”

Expect To Pay More For Your Employer-Sponsored Health Care Next Year, by Julie Appleby. Kaiser Health News, December 20, 2013.

Outlines causes for increasing healthcare costs and discusses the widespread shift of the financial risk from employers to employees. The article notes that “Employers like [HDHPs] because they cost about 20 percent less than an HMO and about 17 percent less than the most popular type of coverage, the preferred provider network or PPO.” Citing the increasing popularity of HDHPs among employers, one health insurance industry analyst notes that the trend is “not driven by the ACA, but [by] the cost pressures on employers.”

Poll: Americans Bristle At Penalties In Wellness Programs, by Jordan Rau. Kaiser Health News, July 1st, 2014.

Reports on a new poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which finds that “76 percent of workers thought it was appropriate for employers to offer wellness programs that promote healthy behavior. But a majority opposed wellness plans that had financial repercussions for workers: 62 percent did not think employers should charge higher health insurance premiums to workers who did not participate, and 74 percent said management should not charge more to those who did not reach health goals.”

High-Deductible Health Plans, Gamble For Some, On The Rise. NPR, July 28, 2013.

Does the ACA deserve the credit (or blame) for rising deductibles? by Galen Benshoof. The Incidental Economist, March 11, 2014.

Catastrophic health plans are bad policy, by Dr. Don McCanne. Healthcare Finance News, June 16, 2014.

McCanne: “Who would actually select these plans with very high deductibles but lower premiums? Very high income individuals might select these plans to insure against catastrophic losses while deciding to self insure against more modest medical costs. The problem with this is that it is a form of regressive financing of the insurance risk pools. Since average healthcare costs are well beyond the means of middle income families to pay for them, wealthier individuals need to contribute more to the collective insurance pools (as they would in a single payer financing system)…. [L]ow-premium catastrophic plans would allow them to contribute less than average instead.

“For healthy middle-income families there is a preference for the tradeoff of lower premiums for higher deductibles…. Families that remain healthy will come out ahead, but those families that later face significant health problems often find that they will face severe financial hardship as well – even bankruptcy.”

He concludes: “The insurance industry has been very successful in getting innovations that benefit themselves.”

The Illogic of Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance, by Uwe E. Reinhardt. New York Times, July 3, 2014.

Looks at employer-provided health coverage in light of the recent Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. Argues that “the premiums ostensibly paid by employers to buy health insurance coverage for their employees are actually part of the employee’s total pay package – the price of labor, in economic parlance – and that the cost of that fringe benefit is recovered from employees through commensurate reductions in take-home pay.” Concludes that it is time to “puncture the illusion that employer-provided health insurance is an unearned gift bestowed on [workers]” by employers.

Architect of Health Law Predicts a Shift Away From Employer Coverage, by John Harwood. New York Times, March 20, 2014.

Reports on new book by Ezekiel J. Emanuel, Reinventing American Health Care: How the Affordable Care Act Will Improve Our Terribly Complex, Blatantly Unjust, Outrageously Expensive, Grossly Inefficient, Error Prone System, in which Mr. Emanuel, who helped to design the Affordable Care Act, says he “expects the law to produce an unadvertised but fundamental shift in where most working Americans get their health insurance — specifically, a sharp drop in the number of employers who offer coverage to their workers.”

The Cost of the Affordable Care Act to Large Employers, by Tevi D. Troy and D. Mark Wilson, American Health Policy Institute, 2014. (The AHPI is a think-tank that focuses on developments in healthcare issues “from the employer perspective.”)

The Society for Human Resource Specialists offers guidelines to its members for “How to Explain High-Deductible Plans” to employees. October 18, 2013.

For 2015, Higher Limits for HSA Contributions and Deductibles: Out-of-Pocket Maximums for High-Deductible Plans Also Up, by Stephen Miller, Society for Human Resource Specialists, April 24, 2014.

Outlines IRS guidelines for 2015 for Health Savings Accounts and HDHP out-of-pocket limits.




Negotiation Update for July 1

I. Administration Proposes Change in Pay Schedule from 26 to 24 Pays

The administration is proposing a change to the existing pay schedule, effective in 2015, from 26 pays per year to 24 for fiscal-year faculty and for academic-year faculty who elect to participate in the deferred-compensation pay structure in which a portion of each paycheck throughout the academic year is withheld for disbursement in equal installments year round. For all faculty, instead of payment every other Tuesday, pay days would occur twice per month, on the 5th and 20th, according to a schedule proposed by the administration. When those dates fall on a weekend or holiday, the pay date would instead be the last business day before the weekend or holiday.

While there may be some advantages to being paid on the same dates every month, there are also some potentially serious problems with what is being proposed. For one, the proposed new schedule could extend the length of time that AY faculty on 18 pays (who would still be paid in 18 equal installments) would have to go without pay after the last pay of the spring semester and before the first one in the fall, which could result in considerable financial hardship. This would not be acceptable to the faculty or to our team.

Additionally, what is being proposed could affect sick-leave accrual for FY faculty. AY faculty members accrue sick leave by semester, a process that would not be affected, but for FY faculty, sick leave accrues by pay period, “on the basis of one-half (1/2) business day for each completed pay period,” according to Article 27§7.1.1 in the 2011-14 Agreement. The administration proposes that under the new plan, FY faculty would “continue to accrue sick leave hours on a pay period basis based on hours worked.” A decrease from 26 to 24 pay periods would thus reduce sick-leave accrual by one day per year for each FY faculty member. Obviously, this would not be acceptable.

There are also likely to be tax implications, especially for high earners. The administration has informed us that their “project team” is “still testing some scenarios for tax withholdings.”

For all of these reasons, the chapter leadership has requested to negotiate this pay proposal rather than have it imposed on the faculty. Our team is exploring all the implications of this proposal and has consulted with several faculty colleagues with relevant expertise as well as with legal counsel.

The team also invites feedback from all colleagues who wish to weigh in on this important issue. Please tell us what you think about the possibility of a change in the pay schedule from 26 to 24 pays by responding to the survey in the email version of this update sent to the faculty on July 1.

II. Shared Governance. Article 37: Long-Range Planning

Since our last update, the two sides have discussed several articles that concern shared governance and are close to agreement on Article 37. In the 2011-14 Agreement, this article, titled “Long-Range Planning,” articulates the faculty’s right to participate in such planning and codifies the right of the WMU-AAUP to appoint faculty members to committees engaged in such work. Our team is working now to expand the article to include evaluation, such as that associated with academic program reviews. Colleagues may recall that the WMU-AAUP had to file a grievance last fall before the chapter’s right (under Article 4) to appoint a colleague to the Academic Program Review project management team was honored. Our team is responding to past problems like that one as well as working proactively to avoid future such issues in their proposed revision to Article 37, which will codify the faculty’s right to participate in and the chapter’s right to appoint members to “any long-range, strategic, or institutional planning or evaluating body or committee.” The two sides are near agreement.

The chapter’s right to appoint is critical to real shared governance on our campus. What distinguishes the role of WMU-AAUP appointees from other faculty members who serve on university committees is the chapter appointee’s unique charge: In addition to participating in the work of the committee, the chapter appointee is also charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the procedures and recommendations of the committee accord with the Agreement. Chapter appointees consult regularly with the WMU-AAUP Executive Committee so that we are able to evaluate through the lens of the contract any recommendations that come from the committee, so that we are aware of and able to keep the faculty informed about important projects and initiatives underway on our campus, and so that we can make sure that a given committee’s work doesn’t start to creep across any contractual boundaries. Our team’s work on Article 37 will help to resolve ambiguities that in the past might have prevented the faculty – and the WMU-AAUP on its behalf – from exercising its full rights to shared governance.

III. Shared Governance. Article 16: Evaluation of Faculty Professional Competence

In the spring of 2013, the Association Council voted to recommend a return to paper course evaluations, citing low participation rates in the online evaluation system, the resulting unreliability of course evaluation data and its use in tenure and promotion decisions, and concerns about security of the data. At the October 2013 chapter meeting, the faculty passed its own resolution to return to paper evaluations. The chapter leadership informed the administration at the time of both of these recommendations. The administrations has agreed to consider the recommendations, and the topic is now under discussion at the bargaining table.

Our team is taking seriously the concerns of the faculty about course evaluations. In addition to negotiating for a return to paper evaluations, as the faculty has directed, our team is also working to reinforce and strengthen the faculty’s role in the evaluation of teaching. Our position is that the faculty is without question the best qualified to conduct such evaluations, the processes and standards for which must necessarily be informed by the diverse academic disciplines at WMU and by the best practices for each. Specifically, our team is proposing that Article 16 make clear that department faculties shall determine the extent to which student ratings are considered in the evaluation of faculty professional competence, including in tenure and promotion reviews.

IV. Proposed New Wellness Program

On June 26, the administration brought to the table representatives from the Office of Human Resources and from Holtyn Associates, the vendor selected to manage a proposed new wellness program at WMU. Holtyn has run a wellness program here since 2006. However, the new program is substantially different from what has been available up to now as an employee benefit. The difference is that the administration now wants to link participation in the program to employee health insurance by offering a financial “incentive,” in the form of a slight reduction in the employee’s insurance premium contribution, in return for participating in the wellness program.

While we are in favor of wellness, we have concerns about this proposal. As reported in the WMU-AAUP Advocate newsletter last fall, the WMU-AAUP was excluded from participation in the activities of the WMU wellness committee for much of 2013, during which time critical decisions were made about the program now being introduced. When an HR official approached the chapter leadership in March of this year to tell us they plan to implement the program this summer, we submitted a request to bargain and asked for information about the program. Both requests were denied. However, the administration has since apparently reconsidered their willingness to bargain, and the wellness program has been brought to the table. Now that we have had a chance to hear them out, our concerns with what is being proposed include the following:

Privacy and confidentiality. In order to qualify for the “incentive,” participants in the wellness program are required to submit to biometric testing and to complete a “health risk assessment” survey that contains personal, presumptive, and intrusive questions (e.g., “Have you been annoyed when others say you have had too much to drink?” and “During the past 4 weeks, how much did your health problems affect your productivity while you were working?”).

As we reported in the Advocate last fall, while the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) includes a privacy rule that prevents healthcare providers from sharing an individual’s health information with their employer, it was not clear whether HIPAA rules apply to “wellness” program vendors who are not technically healthcare providers. We raised this question at the bargaining session on June 26, and the representatives from Holtyn confirmed that while the company complies voluntarily with HIPAA, it is not compelled by law to do so. We therefore have to reiterate our original concerns about the privacy of the health information that participants would be required to provide in order to qualify for the incentive. Should any conflicts of interest arise (in relation to an insurance claim, for example), we have no way to ensure that the vendor would protect faculty interests over those of our employer, who is of course the vendor’s client.

The “incentive.” Under the Affordable Care Act, federal law allows employers to offer incentives for wellness program participation of up to 30 percent of the employee’s share of the premium. However, the incentive on offer – $20 per month, or $9.23 per pay (before taxes) – amounts to only around four percent of the family premium for 2014 ($5,664) and six percent of the two-person premium ($3,927). That seems unlikely to entice faculty on those plans – 60 percent of the Board-appointed faculty are on the family plan or two-person plan – to share their private data in return for what will have very little real impact on their astronomical premiums. For those on the employee-only plan, the incentive before taxes is a more generous 26.8 percent of the 2014 premium.

At a time when we have no idea yet what the administration might have in mind in terms of coverage and costs for the 2014-17 contract, we do not believe that it would be wise to agree on behalf of the bargaining unit to accept the proposed new wellness program as it has been described to us. We believe that the better option is first to negotiate hard on faculty healthcare costs and only then to address the wellness proposal. At this time, along with senior administrators, Board-appointed faculty pay the highest health-insurance premiums of any employee group at WMU.

Next up at the bargaining table:

  • July 8: The administration will present information on healthcare.
  • July 15: The administration will present information on budget and finance.

In light of these developments, all members of the Board-appointed faculty are encouraged to attend the special chapter meeting on Friday, July 18, at 1:30 p.m. in rooms 157-159 of the Bernhard Center.

As you can see from this update and from the topics on the schedule for next week, things are starting to heat up at the table. But never fear: Cynthia, Bilinda, Onaiwu, and Tom are keeping their heads cool and their spirits high and staying focused on their mission: to prepare a strong case on the faculty’s behalf and to bring us a contract that prioritizes the academic mission of the university, strengthens faculty rights, and improves our living and working conditions, all of which have taken hits in recent years.

Many thanks to all of you who came out to the ice cream social on June 17! We hope you had as good a time as we did supporting our team and enjoying an afternoon of ice cream and solidarity. We’ve said it before: Our team is doing a fantastic job for us at the table, but their best leverage comes from the visible and vocal support of the faculty. A good turnout at chapter events sends the message that the faculty is behind the team and paying close attention to what is happening at the table. In that spirit, we hope to see you at the chapter meeting on Friday, July 18!

Finally, you can catch up on negotiation news any time here on the blog and by following the WMU-AAUP on Facebook and Twitter, and as always, we invite your questions and feedback. And please keep those notes of support and solidarity coming!

#GoWMUAAUP        #StrongerTogether

WMU-AAUP Remarks to the Board of Trustees

Remarks to the Board of Trustees
by WMU-AAUP President Lisa Minnick

June 10, 2014

Good morning, everyone, and thank you for allowing me time on your agenda.

First, I’d like to offer my congratulations on behalf of the leadership of the WMU-AAUP to the more than 50 faculty colleagues whose promotions and tenure will in just a few moments be made official at last, after an eight-month-long review process and many years of dedicated service. Recognition for their accomplishments may be infrequent – as you know, most professors will be eligible for only two promotions in the course of their entire careers – but the impact of their work is experienced daily by their colleagues and by the generations of students whom they have taught and mentored and whose lives and intellectual development they have influenced in ways that will continue to unfold over a lifetime. It is an honor to work alongside and, in my role as chapter president, to serve these outstanding teachers, researchers, scholars, and artists. I offer my congratulations to all of you who are being celebrated today, my congratulations and my thanks.

As many of the people in this room are aware, the faculty is currently negotiating with the university administration on our new contract. Conversations at the bargaining table have been collegial and spirited. On the agenda are practical topics – compensation, health care – as well as philosophical matters. To take one example of the latter, the faculty team has presented a draft preamble with language that would enshrine in our contract the values of academic freedom, shared governance, and collaboration between faculty and administration, in order to reflect our mutual commitment to articulating and modeling these values for our students and for the benefit of the institution.

Our negotiation team and the chapter leadership have been listening carefully to our colleagues. For months, we have been attending department meetings with faculty all over campus. In addition to their concerns about stagnant salaries, ballooning out-of-pocket costs for health care, and persistent salary inequities, the faculty has also made clear to us the high value they place on shared governance. Additionally, preliminary analysis of the data collected in a recent WMU-AAUP faculty survey indicates that along with economic concerns, “working to restore real shared governance” is among the most frequently cited priorities for negotiations.

We are still collecting and analyzing data from the faculty survey, but so far, we have conducted a preliminary, first-pass analysis of the surveys that were completed by May 5, representing the views of a total of 250 faculty colleagues. In that set of responses, the participants express a number of interesting views, including with respect to their emphasis on shared governance, collaboration, and transparency.

For example, regarding the academic program review now underway, 67% of the respondents said that they are “somewhat lacking in confidence” or “very much lacking in confidence” in that initiative, compared to 19% who are “somewhat confident” or “very confident.” (14% are neither confident nor lacking in confidence or otherwise in the middle.)

On the question of confidence in the availability of the resources – including financial aid and sufficient course offerings and staffing – needed to support on-time graduation for our students, 35% of the respondents are “somewhat” or “very confident” about the availability of such resources; 45% are “somewhat lacking” or “very much lacking in confidence.” 20% are are neither confident nor lacking in confidence or otherwise in the middle.

61% of respondents report that they are “somewhat lacking” or “very much lacking in confidence” in the availability of resources to help students graduate without excessive debt, while just 16% are “somewhat” or “very confident” that the resources are available.

As for their confidence in major campus initiatives, only 18% of faculty respondents said they are “somewhat” or “very” confident in WMU’s new partnership with Cooley Law School, while 31% expressed confidence in the medical school.

The administration’s team, to its credit, has for the most part expressed willingness to hear out what the faculty team has to say. And what our team has to say is very much informed by what our colleagues campus-wide have expressed and continue to express to us as this process unfolds. We are very fortunate to have an outstanding team of faculty colleagues to negotiate on the faculty’s behalf. They are Dr. Cynthia Klekar, our chief negotiator, Associate Professor of English; Dr. Bilinda Straight, Professor of Anthropology; Dr. Onaiwu Ogbomo, Professor of History and Africana Studies; and Dr. Thomas Joyce, Professor of Paper Engineering. They are all dedicated teachers and accomplished researchers and scholars.

Cynthia, Bilinda, Onaiwu, and Tom have agreed to put their research and scholarly work aside this summer to focus on negotiations. In doing so, they have chosen to make a significant extra investment of their time and their talents in the future of this institution. They are outstanding representatives of the caliber of the WMU faculty as a whole, all of them possessed of enormous intellectual talent as well as great personal integrity. The faculty very much appreciates their willingness to serve in these demanding roles.

Among the key objectives of our faculty team are to model collaboration and transparency, to make clear the unique role of the faculty in the university enterprise, and to stand for the highest academic values and standards. However, they face a number of challenges, given the trend that has arisen in recent years on our campus toward increased centralization of authority and a nationwide movement toward deprofessionalization of university faculties. Accordingly, faculty respondents to the survey expressed significant concern not only over the state of shared governance at WMU but also about the university’s reputation compared to peers, and about the administration’s commitment to maintaining WMU’s status as a research university.

Our position is that you can’t be a “top 100 national university” without investing in the resources – including the people – that make such distinction possible. Once again, we are talking about priorities. Budget decisions don’t happen in a vacuum. They reflect institutional values. We have all read about President Dunn’s generous compensation package, making him now the second-highest paid university president in Michigan and number 18 nationwide. Meanwhile, at this “top 100 national university,” faculty salaries rank 342nd in the United States. That is actually down from last year, when we ranked 339th. Once again, WMU is classified as “far below” the national median for faculty salaries, with our salaries at the ninth percentile nationwide for assistant professors, 13th for associate professors, and 14th for full professors.

There always seems to be plenty of money for the things that the administration values, but unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to include the people who make WMU the high-quality research and teaching institution it is today. But it does seem to include consultants, vendors, contractors, and especially lawyers. For example, the administration’s negotiation team includes, in addition to several chairs, deans, and senior administrators, a lawyer brought in from outside to serve as their “chief negotiator,” who in that capacity appears to be vested with a great deal of authority in the proceedings but who has no stake in the academic mission of the university, is not invested in that mission, and appears to be unwilling to comprehend even what the mission is or why it has value.

His lack of shared values with everyone else at the table – on both sides of the table – is reflected in a recent negotiation update from the administration’s team, which was widely circulated late last week. Not only did it contain multiple inaccuracies about matters as basic and straightforward as which team introduced and presented proposals on which articles of the contract, but more disturbingly, it lapsed into rhetoric that bordered on the union-busting variety. The faculty fully expects and is well prepared for a lively, spirited debate at the bargaining table. This is a university; vigorous debate is what we do. We make arguments; we support them with evidence and data; we challenge one another. We try to make the stronger case. And we absolutely expect the other side to do the same. However, the tone and content of that recently emailed update raises serious questions about the appropriateness of bestowing such authority on a participant whose objectives seem to be only about winning, with no consideration of what any of that might to do our collective ability to continue to offer a top-quality educational experience to the students of this state and beyond. But of course, that is not his responsibility or his problem. The people in this room and elsewhere on campus are the ones who will live with the consequences.

Members of the board, I’ve prepared a packet for each of you containing all the negotiation updates* that the WMU-AAUP has shared with our members to date so that you can be apprised on how things have been progressing. We believe that communicating openly and directly about these matters is part of how we honor our commitment to transparency and collaboration. These values also extend to how we conduct ourselves at the bargaining table as well as in our classrooms, in our labs, in our libraries, in our studios, and in our community. We call upon the administration — and the team that represents the administration at the table — to embrace these values as well.

*WMU-AAUP negotiation updates are available at the links: