Sending on behalf of UConn-AAUP President, Professor Tom Bontly
By now, you should have received an email from AAUP inviting you to vote to approve two tentative agreements. As the chapter’s new president, I want first to thank our bargaining team for their hard work through two years of difficult, time-consuming, and often contentious negotiations.
More to the point, I want you to know that I support these agreements in full and urge you to do the same. To be sure, there is good news and bad for us in these agreements; the lack of any increase in compensation until July 1, 2018 and the return of furlough days are particularly unwelcome. However, the good these agreements provide (raises in AY 19-20 and 20-21, a one-time payment in 2018, rock-solid job security, and the preservation of our retirement and health care benefits into the future – all guaranteed by contract) far outweighs the bad. The consequences if we were to reject either agreement, furthermore, are going to be ugly – worse by far than the minor concessions contained herein. In view of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, the best course is to ratify.
Therefore, I highly recommend that you vote swiftly to ratify both agreements, and I ask you to encourage others to do the same. Please do not assume these agreements will be approved as a matter of course; we really do need your vote. If you would like a fuller explanation of what’s at stake in these agreements and why they are worth ratifying, please read on. At the end, there are also some FAQs, with my answers.
What’s at stake
We are voting to ratify two separate agreements:
- A new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between UConn-AAUP and UConn’s Board of Trustees, covering wages, working conditions, disciplinary procedures, travel money, etc. Our old CBA expired in June 2016; for AY 16-17, we operated on a one-year extension. The new CBA would run through 20-21 if approved.
- An extension and revision of the existing contract between the State Employee Bargaining Agent Coalition (SEBAC), of which UConn-AAUP is one member, and the State of Connecticut. The SEBAC contract, covering health care and retirement benefits, would be extended 5 years, through 2027.
Detailed explanations of both can be found here: http://www.uconnaaup.org/2017/06/29/ratification-vote-for-uconn-aaup-cba-sebac-ta/.
Although we are asked to vote separately on each, the agreements are intertwined. In particular, the SEBAC deal contains concessions without which our CBA would be DOA in the legislature. As you’ve no doubt heard, Connecticut faces an estimated $5.1 billion deficit over the next two years. Although state employees did not cause this problem and should not be expected to bear the entire burden, the political reality is that savings from state employees will be part of the solution. If those savings don’t come from us via negotiated concessions, they will be extracted through layoffs and legislation, doing far more damage – to us individually, to the university, to the state – than these collectively-bargained concessions ever could.
For that reason, the SEBAC unions worked with the Governor to hammer out a package that should save the state $1.57 billion over the two-year budget cycle and $24.1 billion over the next two decades. While these concessions are certainly not painless, they are relatively modest and can be managed:
- No salary increase for two years (which, without a new CBA, would be the case anyway),
- Three furlough days in 17-18,
- Modest increases in health care costs,
- Small increases to our pension contributions and/or decreases to employer match.
The upside to these agreements, on the other hand, is enormous. Just to summarize the most significant, we get:
- A new CBA with substantial (5.5%) raises in 19-20 and 20-21; the raises would be guaranteed by contract;
- A one-time $2000 bonus (pro-rated for part-timers) in July 2018, which effectively compensates us for the furlough days;
- Better raises upon promotion, more travel money, a separate fund for addressing salary compression and equity issues, more faculty control over the selection of department heads, and better protection for due process rights;
- Excellent job security for both tenure- and non-tenure-track members; and
- A five-year extension of the SEBAC agreement through 2027, contractually guaranteeing our benefits through five biennial budgets and three gubernatorial elections.
The most important of these benefits, if you ask me, is the SEBAC extension. Even assuming that we still have collective bargaining in this state in a few years, which we may not, a successor agreement would be very difficult to negotiate; it could wind up in arbitration. Furthermore, collective bargaining is under attack, here and nationally. In the state legislature this session, a great many bills were introduced to curtail or revoke bargaining rights for state employees. We hear that national “right to work” legislation is also likely to pass. If so-called “right to work” were to happen here or nationally, at least the SEBAC contract would remain in effect until it expires. The later the expiration date, the better off we are.
If collective bargaining disappears and SEBAC expires, our benefits and what we pay for them would be set by legislative decree. What precisely that would cost us is impossible to predict with any precision, but there’s no doubt we’d wind up paying more – probably a lot more – and receiving less in return. The state could, for instance, raise employees’ share of health insurance premiums (currently 12%) to whatever it wanted. It could impose high deductibles, high co-pays, or annual limits. The state could also unilaterally change the terms of our retirement plans. For ARP members, it could stop matching your contributions to your retirement account altogether. In the worst-case scenario, an average faculty member could wind up paying tens of thousands of dollars more per year for health care and receive thousands less per year toward retirement. Would the state do all of those things? Who knows, but one thing is perfectly clear: we employees would no longer have any say in the outcome.
In essence, then, the deal is this. (1) We pay a bit more for our benefits in order to guarantee them for a much longer time. (2) We suffer the ignominy of three furlough days in 17-18 in exchange for two substantial salary increases a couple years down the road. And (3) we protect people’s jobs and ensure that state support for the university continues at more or less the same level, thereby protecting the quality of education and research mission of the university. All things considered, it’s a good deal, and I urge you to take it.
Here are a few questions I have repeatedly heard, and my answers.
Question 1. What reason is there to believe that we will ever see the raises in the out-years of the contract? Won’t they disappear if the state’s fiscal woes continue?
Answer. Once our CBA is ratified, those raises are part of a legally-binding contract. If the state failed to pay them, we’d sue, and there’s every reason to believe we’d prevail in court. Yes, if the state’s fiscal problems continue, the next governor might ask us voluntarily to give up our raises. Then we would have to consider whether there was anything to be gained by returning to the bargaining table. But neither the BOT nor the governor nor the legislature could unilaterally rescind or decrease those raises, and with the lay-off protections built into the agreement, they would have little leverage.
Question 2. You say that these raises would be guaranteed by contract and that the state can’t unilaterally rescind them. But I just read in the CTMirror that the legislature is considering whether to rescind raises for judges. Doesn’t that mean our raises could get wiped out as well?
Answer. Judges and other state officials aren’t covered by a collective bargaining agreement, so their raises aren’t contractually guaranteed. This is one reason why we think it so important to preserve collective bargaining rights for state employees: without collective bargaining, we would have far fewer protections.
Question 3. Why should we give up our raises again? Shouldn’t the CBA contain raises every year, like it did in the old days?
Answer. We aren’t giving up raises, because we don’t have any coming to us anyway. Our old CBA, which expired a year ago, called for a freeze in 11-12 and 12-13, followed by raises in the next three years. Since then, we have been operating under one-year extensions with no general wage increase or merit pool. I would love a raise this year, but given the state’s fiscal woes, the legislature wouldn’t approve new CBAs with raises in the current biennium.
Question 4. What happens if we reject the changes to the SEBAC agreement? Could we hold out for a better deal?
Answer. No one can predict precisely what would occur, but the state surely isn’t going to give us a better deal. We face an uphill battle just to get the legislature to approve the tentative agreement as it is. Here’s what I would expect if we reject the SEBAC deal:
- The current SEBAC 2011 deal would continue until 2022; if not extended before then, it will expire, and our benefits will become a political football for the legislature to kick around. If that comes to pass, we can expect worse benefits at much higher cost.
- Our new CBA would not go into effect, and we would receive no raises for the foreseeable future.
- There would be layoffs and non-renewals. To achieve savings equivalent to the concessions, the state would have to lay off something like 12,000 employees, or about a quarter of its workforce. Many would surely be in higher ed.
- State support for UConn’s budget would be drastically reduced, resulting in program- and/or campus-closures and perhaps higher teaching loads.
- A Wisconsin-style attack on collective bargaining would gather steam, ending or at least further curtailing our rights to bargain collectively over benefits and/or wages. (Those bills are already pending in the legislature, but thus far there aren’t enough votes to pass them. If we vote this down, that’s likely to change.)
Question 5. Why are we only extending the SEBAC agreement through 2027? Wouldn’t longer be better?
Answer. Yes, longer would probably be better, but the Governor would only agree to a 5-year extension of SEBAC. He is taking a lot of heat for agreeing even to that much. Some in the legislature seem to think that the Governor should have extracted much bigger concessions in exchange for a 5-year extension. The important point is that extending the SEBAC contract through 2027 preserves the structure of our benefit package through five budget cycles and three gubernatorial elections. No doubt the unions will seek to extend it further when there is an opportunity to do so.
Question 6. I’m not planning to retire before 2027, so how does an extension of SEBAC only through 2027 do me any good? If the SEBAC agreement expires in 2027 and I’m not yet retired, do my retirement benefits disappear?
Answer. Thankfully, no – your retirement plan will still be there even if the SEBAC agreement were to expire, no matter the year.
- If you are in the ARP, the money in your retirement account is already yours, and the state can’t touch it.
- If you are in SERS, the structure is different, but the bottom line is the same: pension benefits are a form of deferred compensation which, once vested, you are legally owed. The state can’t choose not to pay vested benefits. That said, the rules under which you receive your benefits (age minimums, COLAs, etc) can change. As long as we have collective bargaining, those sorts of changes have to be negotiated; if ever we lose the right to collective bargaining, the state will be able to make such changes unilaterally.
Question 7. If our pension benefits are guaranteed no matter what, why does it matter if we extend the SEBAC agreement through 2027?
Answer. The SEBAC agreement covers more than pensions. It also covers health care benefits, the cost of which could go up considerably if that contract were ever to expire. Just focusing on retirement plans, however, the state could and probably would change by legislative fiat how much we contribute and/or how much the state kicks in, with the upshot that we’d pay more and/or receive less.
- For ARP members, you currently contribute 5% of salary to your retirement account and the state kicks in another 8%. Under the tentative agreement to extend SEBAC the state’s match would drop to 7% and stay there until at least 2027. (Your contribution will automatically go up to 6% to offset, unless you submit a form to opt out of the increase, in which case you will simply save less for retirement. That’s up to you.) If, on the other hand, SEBAC were allowed to expire in 2022, the state could choose then and there to slash or even eliminate the employer match. If extended until 2027, that can’t happen.
- For SERS members, it’s about the same: if the SEBAC contract expires, the legislature could make you contribute much more to your retirement plan. The agreement to extend SEBAC increases your pension contributions gradually over the span of a few years and then locks them in until 2027.