United Academics became the bargaining representative for the majority of faculty at the University of Alaska campuses after the third attempt to organize in a period of almost 20 years. The success of the latest effort can be attributed primarily to a period of several years in the early- to mid-1990s in which there were no salary increases for faculty not represented by Alaska Community College Federation of Teachers (ACCFT), and on the heels of unilateral decisions by the Board of Regents to change compensation, evaluation procedures, workload standards, health care, grievance policies and other conditions affecting faculty. An organizing effort, led by Professor Larry Weiss and supported by both the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), culminated in a vote in Spring 1996 in which 65 percent of the faculty supported United Academics-AAUP/AFT as their bargaining representative. This effectively suspended the proposed changes and gave the faculty a legal, democratic means by which to exercise their right to a binding voice in university decisions under collective bargaining law. A new constitution and by-laws were written and adopted in October, and the first election of officers was held in November of 1996.
On January 29, 1998, after more than a year of intense negotiations, a tentative agreement on a first three-year contract was signed by President Larry Weiss for United Academics and Director of Labor Relations James R. Johnsen for the University of Alaska. The agreement, in effect until December 2000, was ratified by the membership by a 216 to 33 vote on March 3, 1998, and approved by the University of Alaska Board of Regents on March 5, 1998. In addition to establishing United Academics as the negotiating agent for approximately 68 percent of University of Alaska faculty, this contract provided for the first across-the-board increases in salary for those faculty since 1993. Salary increases were 3 percent in the first year and 2.4 percent in the second, with an additional “performance adjustment” for qualified unit members drawn from 2.4 percent of the total faculty salary pool and, at the university’s discretion, the possible award of “merit” bonuses. The contract also established minimum salary levels below which no new faculty could be hired, and maximum salary levels for continuing faculty.
President Larry Weiss resigned in order to take a much-deserved sabbatical in 1999, and Michael Jennings, the Executive Vice-President (a position since abolished by the Representative Assembly) was appointed by the Executive Board to fill the last year of Weiss’s term. During that year, a “fast-track” contract was negotiated, one in which only specified issues/articles such as cost-of-living increases, increases in salary minimums, and the faculty evaluation process for promotion and tenure were to be addressed in order to have the contract in hand before the legislative session of 2001. This was done so both the University and United Academics could advocate for funding of the monetary provisions during a legislative session where increases in funding seemed likely to be unavailable. Across-the-board salary increases in this contract were set at 2.6% per year for each of the 3 years of the CBA. Other important provisions of that contract, which was effective from January 1, 2001, until December 31, 2003, included, but were not limited to an increase in the salary minimums for newly hired faculty and maximums for continuing faculty, along with provision for faculty salary increases for promotion, retention offers, and equity salary adjustments, and for merit bonuses (the latter at the discretion of the University). Substantial changes were made in an effort to improve Article 9 of the CBA, which deals with the procedures involved in the promotion and tenure review process.
United Academics is now operating on its fifth Collective Bargaining Agreement, effective from January 1, 2017, until December 31, 2019. This CBA has been extended for an additional year, with negotiations scheduled to begin in the fall of 2020. University Labor and UNAC jointly agreed to postpone contract negotiations by a year, in response to the severe budget crisis caused by Governor Dunleavy’s veto of $130 million dollars allocated for UA in the Alaska state budget.
While several important matters remain to be addressed in the years ahead, the biggest issue facing United Academics at this point is the need to increase members’ engagement in the union itself. The 25 seats on the Representative Assembly need to be filled by unit members interested in moving United Academics ahead to address these problems/issues. There are opportunities for interested and involved members to play a leadership role in the union, to receive training in areas of importance to all members, and to decide the direction of United Academics in the years to come. Get involved!