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!