Thursday, January 17th, 2019

USM Faculty voting on tentative contract: AFUM has until October 1 to vote or it’s back to negotiations

Posted on September 29, 2015 in News
By USM Free Press

By Cody Marcroft

A tentative faculty contract agreed to between negotiators for the Associated Faculties of the Universities of Maine (AFUM) and University of Maine System (UMS) is currently being voted on by professors for approval.

The contract offered addresses salaries, healthcare, tuition waivers, commuting between campuses among other matters. According to James McClymer, chair of the AFUM negotiating team and Associate Professor of physics at Orono, one of the biggest changes  was establishing a process to deal with the Cadillac Tax provision of the Affordable Care Act, if it were to impact the UMS in the future.

“In short, [the provision] is an attempt to rein in costs and to raise revenue by taxing plans that cost above a certain amount,” McClymer explained in an email. “The tax is large — 40 percent of the difference between actual cost and the tax level. The cost would be a burden on our members and on the UMS.”

The objective will be for both sides to negotiate plan design changes that will keep healthcare costs for faculty below the Cadillac Tax threshold. If an agreement can’t be reached, then an independent arbitrator will intervene, listening to both parties’ positions before determining how to stay below the tax level.

Other changes include healthcare for retirees being explicitly mentioned in the contract, waiving the unified fee for faculty members who decide to enroll in courses, and ensuring that professors who travel between more than one campus to teach courses will not have to make repeated trips during a day.

A Powerpoint created by the AFUM alleged that UMS negotiators wanted to spread the academic workload and require faculty members to be available year-round to provide student support with no additional compensation. Currently, professors have three months off, typically summer months.

The Powerpoint was shared via email with faculty earlier this month. It intended to explain not only the conditions in the proposed contract finalized in August, but also unsuccessful proposals put forth by both sides. Susan Feiner, President of the USM chapter of AFUM, said the changes proposed by the UMS were unacceptable.

“AFUM takes very seriously our commitment to teacher-scholars,” said Susan Feiner, “and scholarship requires large blocks of uninterrupted time. Everyone I know is using those months [away from teaching] for research.”

The contract is the first since numerous USM faculty and staff members were laid off to. The backlash the cuts received in the community made national headlines and warranted the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) to censure USM’s administration.

Mark Schmelz, Director of Labor Relations and member of the UMS negotiating team, did not respond to the allegations in the AFUM Powerpoint. He explained that negotiations are conducted in an executive session, not publicly.

“I wouldn’t feel comfortable, with the ground rules we entered into with the union, diving into any proposals we may have made or discussions we may have had,” said Schmelz.

The AFUM negotiating team, comprised of professors from various UMS campuses, and UMS’s board of trustees were responsible for negotiating the proposed contract. Now, AFUM’s roughly 900 members have until October 1st to submit their vote to either ratify the contract or send the two sides back to the negotiating table.

If approved, the contract will stand until the final day of June 2017.

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