After 15 months of negotiation, 10 meetings with state-appointed mediators and hundreds of hours at the bargaining table, the United Faculty of Western Washington (UFWW) is still unable to reach a deal with the administration for Western's first faculty contract.
The most recent negotiation attempt was made on April 24 and 25, when the bargaining teams met to discuss the three remaining issues of the contract—grievance and arbitration, compensation and workload (see sidebar). According to UFWW director of communications Kyle Crowder, very little progress was made during this time.
“We came in extremely hopeful because the chair of the Board of Trustees, Kevin Raymond, had expressed publicly that he was very eager to see a resolution to the contract negotiation very soon—before they announced the new president or right on the heels of announcing the new president,” Crowder said. “We worked for two solid days, and the other side moved not at all on binding arbitration, not at all on workload, and they moved a tiny amount on compensation, barely increasing their last offer, and doing it only verbally—they didn't even write it down.”
Crowder said that the biggest consequence of the negotiations lasting so long is the negative impact it's having on the faculty's morale.
“We've got a situation where faculty members are already underpaid and by some measures overworked, and now they're in this situation where the administration is obviously not eager to reach a fair contract, and that sends very important messages about the future of the university,” Crowder said.
According to Jessica Sheinbaum, president of Western's Student Labor Action Project, the issues the faculty are facing also strongly affect students and the quality of education they receive.
“I think what students are most concerned about is the issue of salary, because we have all these good professors and we want them to stay here,” Sheinbaum said. “The other big issue is workload, because we know that if teachers' workloads aren't capped, they're not going to have enough time to work with students individually or give us the attention we need.”
Members of the Student Labor Action Project have been supporting UFWW by circulating petitions and coalition letters that they'll soon present to the administration. They plan to continue their support throughout the contract negotiation process.
“We'll be making buttons and working with the Associated Students, who can then be a kind of ‘middleman' for communicating with the administration,” Sheinbaum said. “We're going to increase our gatherings and shows of solidarity.”
Crowder said that a show of student support for the faculty would be helpful in reinforcing the points the UFWW is trying to get across.
“Sending e-mails and letters to the university administration and the Board of Trustees, or having parents call or write—these are the kinds of things that administrators tend to respond to,” Crowder said. “They need to know that the student body is aware and cares about a fair faculty contract.”
According to Crowder, contract ratification would take one month, so a tentative agreement would have to be made by May 15 for the contract to be settled this school year. Crowder said that while he is hopeful that a deal will be struck by then, the negotiations will almost certainly extend into next school year.
“I want to get this done, but we're also in a situation where we're down to those few issues that we simply can't compromise on,” Crowder said. “If we compromise on these things, the quality of education at Western goes down, and we can't have that. We're all here because we love the place.”