New York State and the SUNY-wide United University Professionals union are conferring a contract, a process that has gone on for close to two years. The stalling of an agreement between both entities has caused uncertainty among Geneseo faculty and staff over the state of future finances.
The latest agreement between the union and the state expired in July 2016, according to Faculty Fellow for International Programs and UUP Chapter President Weston Kennison. Since then, dicussions have revolved around increasing benefits and salaries for SUNY employees, although negotiators are not allowed to speak about specific details of the drafting process.
“Obviously, we want a fair contract and we have wanted a fair contract for some time now,” Kennison said. “Usually the core of the contract negotiation centers around salary and some terms and conditions of employment, like job security or key elements of the benefit package, like health insurance.”
Since the parties have not settled on contract details, state employees have continued to work under old terms, Kennison said. Without updates, union members have not received raises for two years, which Kennison identifies as one of the major drawbacks of not reaching an agreement.
“The harm comes in the fact that there have been no raises in two years, and so we want to get this stuff resolved as quickly as possible,” Kennison said. “If we hadn’t taken [outdated salary rates] … we [wouldn’t have] fallen behind. The further the amount of time before a new contract, the more we fall behind.”
An additional area that negotiators have struggled with is the role of part-time adjunct professors, according to Kennison.
“We have the peculiar issue of part-time academics; our adjunct professors,” Kennison said. “In the past, UUP has done some pretty spectacular work on behalf of the adjuncts—we have the best health insurance package for adjuncts in the country, for example. But the pay continues to be abysmally awful. Attempting to do something to address adjunct salaries is always a very big part of what we do.”
Adjunct lecturer of Chinese and UUP Academic Delegate Jasmine Tang spoke about the difficulties that adjunct lecturers often face regarding resources, along with salary rates and job security. In her own experience as an adjunct lecturer, Tang said that she didn’t have real office space on-campus until recently.
SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Biology Robert O’Donnell felt that many younger employees bear the brunt of contract insecurity.
“I imagine, for younger faculty, [stagnant wages are] much more important to them. Anyone who is trying to raise a family, where the cost of everything is going up and their salary is not,” O’Donnell said. “I think it hurts us to recruit good faculty to the campus. If the salaries always are basically staying down, if people have the option of going somewhere else, they may choose to go elsewhere.”
Another problem the negotiators have encountered is that, after the state ratifies the contract, the state government will still have to include extra funds in the budget, according to Kennison. If the state does not, the burden to cover the expenses of the contract falls on each individual college. This often leads to tuition hikes to cover the expenses, Kennison said.
While O’Donnell expressed concern that the contract negotiations would continue for another year, he did comment that the college union members had managed to stall negotiations in the past. Some professors have worried that the negotiators focus too much on peripheral issues, potentially hurting the interests of most union members, O’Donnell said.
In the meantime, the UUP at Geneseo is planning to organize events that will allow for members to communicate their desires for a resolution to contract negotiations. While Kennison did not want to give further details regarding the events, as they are still in the planning stages, he seemed hopeful they would encourage a resolution.
“It really is time to finish negotiations,” Kennison said. “Everybody knows the arguments. Everybody knows the issues. It’s time to reach across the table and wrap it up.”