UConn-AAUP Update – July 15, 2020

UConn-AAUP Update: July 15, 2020

In this issue:

  • Update on Raises/Merit
  • Welcome new Executive Committee Members

Update on Raises/Merit

As previously reported, the UConn administration has asked the university’s unions, including UConn-AAUP, for assistance in addressing the budget deficit created by the COVID-19 pandemic.  Specifically, in a meeting on June 10, President Katsouleas asked that we (1) defer the general wage and merit increases which (most) permanent members of the bargaining unit are expecting under Article 19 of the contract, and (2) that we accept as many as 12 furlough days, or one per month until next summer.  If we were to accept both the pay freeze and the furlough days, it would amount to a 10% reduction in pay for the year from the baseline in the contract.

Since then, UConn-AAUP has had extensive discussions not only with the administration but with the other unions as well, and we have also received much valuable input from you, our members.  While we are committed to working with administration to address the University’s financial issues, we have determined that we are unable to defer contractual raises at this time.  The reasons for this are both practical and principled.

First, it’s important to recall that the raises built into our current contract were dictated by the terms of the 2017 SEBAC agreement between the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC), of which UConn-AAUP is one member, and the State of Connecticut.  Under that agreement, Connecticut’s unionized state employees accepted cuts to their pension and health benefits, furlough days, and a three-year salary freeze, in exchange for protection from layoffs and salary increases in two future years (Fiscal Years 2019-20 and 2020-21).  Importantly, any union accepting the protection from layoffs (which UConn-AAUP did) was required also to accept the parameters concerning salary increases and incorporate them into their local collective bargaining agreement.  (Those parameters were (a) no salary increases in FYs 2016-17, 2017-18, and 2018-19, (b) a one-time payment of $2000 in July 2018, and (c) general wage increases of 3.5% plus a 2% step (or merit) increases in both 2019-20 and 2020-21.)

Thanks to the SEBAC 2017 agreement, UConn’s unionized faculty and staff are already doing more than their fair share to help the University and State with its fiscal problems.  According to a recent analysis by Comptroller Kevin Lembo, SEBAC 2017 saved the state $1.7 billion in the first biennium after it went into effect ($200 million more than initially projected) and will save $25 billion over 20 years.  With approximately 45,000 unionized state employees in CT, that means that each one of us is already saving the State of Connecticut an average of $30,000 per year, every year.  By stabilizing the State budget, furthermore, the SEBAC 2017 agreement saved the University from a massive, draconian reduction in State support.

At this point, SEBAC 2017 remains in effect, and neither the Governor nor the Coalition demonstrated much interest in renegotiating or extending it.  Nor can UConn-AAUP and the University renegotiate those terms on their own.  Deviating from the parameters for salary increases at this point would leave both the University and UConn-AAUP in violation of that agreement.  This fact alone is reason enough for us to decline to defer or cancel our contractual raises.

However, there are several additional considerations which persuade us that deferring our contractual increases would be unwise.

  1. Legislative hurdles.  Because our current contract expires on June 30, 2021, any plan to defer raises would involve either an extension of our current contract into the next fiscal year, or an agreement for raises in the successor contract.  Either way, the contract would have to be submitted to the Connecticut General Assembly and approved by both the House and Senate, pursuant to CGA 5-278.  We have been advised that, due to considerable uncertainty about future tax revenue, the General Assembly is unlikely at this time even to take up, much less approve, any extension beyond the end of this fiscal year.
  2. Job security.  As part of any agreement to defer raises, introduce furlough days, or otherwise reduce our members’ pay, we would expect a commitment from the administration to protect everyone in the bargaining unit from layoffs.  Although the administration has expressed a desire to avoid layoffs, they were unwilling to make such a commitment at this time.  (Some members of the bargaining unit are already protected by the job security provisions in SEBAC 2017, but anyone hired on or after July 1, 2017 is not covered by those provisions.)
  3. Other options.  Before we ask our members for further sacrifice, UConn-AAUP needs to see that the University is doing everything it can to save money (or increase revenue) elsewhere:  e.g., freezing all hiring, deferring maintenance and construction projects, reducing the size of the administration, reducing the subsidy of Athletics, and so on.  Those steps have not yet been taken, and we are unwilling to allow the administration to balance its budget on the backs of UConn’s loyal employees while other options remain.
  4. The rainy day fund.  According a recent report from the State Comptroller, Connecticut ended FY20 with a smaller-than-expected deficit and also holds more than $2.5 billion in its Budget Reserve (“rainy day”) Fund.  We suggest that before UConn’s faculty and staff are asked to make further financial sacrifices, the State should use a small portion of the rainy day fund to make up for the loss of revenue the University expects as a result of COVID-19.
  5. The unfunded liability problem.  Beyond the revenue loss due to COVID-19, the University was already facing a significant deficit for FY 21 due in large part to the State’s unfunded pension liability.  According to CFO Scott Jordan, UConn will have to come up with approximately $31 million to cover the State’s unfunded liability (which, to be clear, has nothing to do with the cost of retirement benefits for current employees, and has everything to do with the State’s long-running failure adequately to fund the pension fund.)  If UConn’s faculty and staff were to agree to a pay cut, they would in effect be letting the State off the hook for dealing with the problem it created.
  6. Federal assistance.  As COVID cases surge throughout much of the country, pressure is building on the federal government (and, in particular, on Republican members of Congress) to provide further assistance to state and local governments and institutions of higher education.  Rather than cutting salaries – a move which would further slow the Connecticut economy – we encourage University officials and our elected representatives to bring pressure on the U.S. Senate to pass the HEROES Act adopted by the U.S. House in May.

Welcome to our new officers and executive committee members

Tom Bontly, Past President

It’s a pleasure to introduce our new chapter President, Mary Ellen Junda, who took office on July 1.  I’m grateful for all the energy she put in last year as Vice President and especially her leadership in dealing with the university administration during the COVID crisis. It makes me glad to pass the gavel to someone so thoughtful, principled, and wise.

Likewise, it’s a pleasure to introduce the other officers and executive committee members for 2020-21:

Jeffrey Ogbar (History) – Executive Vice President

Louise Simmons (Social Work) – Vice President for Membership Development and Organizing

Oskar Harmon (Economics) – Secretary/Treasurer

Suman Majumdar (Statistics) – Regional Campus Rep

Dafhne Aguirre (Chemistry)

Amvrossios Bagtzoglou (Civil & Environmental Engineering)

Monica Bock (Art & Art History)

Laura Burton (Educational Leadership)

Joseph Crivello (Physiology & Neurobiology)

Faquir Jain (Electrical & Computer Engineering)

Michael Morrell (Political Science)

Lyle Scruggs (Political Science)

Fatma Selampinar (Chemistry)

Chris Vials (English)

I am grateful to all of these people for their service.  Your chapter is in great hands.

Finally, I wish to thank my fellow UConn-AAUP members, both for their support for the chapter and for giving me the privilege of serving as president for these past three years.  Best of all, it has allowed me to work with and learn from our marvelous, talented staff and with all those dedicated members who volunteer their time, energy, wisdom, and passion for the cause.  It would take several pages to list all those folks here, so a general but nonetheless heartfelt “thank you” to them will have to suffice for now.

Mary Ellen Junda

Tom Bontly

Michael Bailey