Faculty union sees minimal progress after nine months of contract negotiations


Mac Mansfield-Parisi

Katherine Elmer, lead negotiator for the part-time faculty bargaining team, before the faculty union’s rally on the Howe Library steps Oct. 20.

Negotiations between UVM’s faculty union, United Academics, and the University administration over a new part-time faculty contract are at a standstill, said Union President Eleanor Miller.

The impasse comes after nine months of negotiating a new contract to replace the nearly 18-month-old contract still in effect, Miller said. Part-time faculty are now attempting to secure increased job security, raises and better benefits.

“Many of us expected to have an agreement before this fall semester, especially because right now, we are negotiating a contract that was scheduled to start in September of 2022,” said Katherine Elmer, lead negotiator for the part-time faculty bargaining team. “So we’re frustrated that we don’t know what we’re going to be paid this year.” 

In June 2021, part-time faculty agreed to postpone negotiations until January 2022 because of pandemic-related circumstances, Elmer said. Now, those negotiations have reached a standstill.

It took three months for the two sides to agree on ground rules, which are usually only a formality and can be signed off on before negotiating begins, Elmer said. The administration did not agree to ground rules that had worked in prior bargaining sessions.

“We have been meeting with them once or twice a month since January,” Elmer said. “And it’s been really frustrating because they have a tendency to just kind of string the process along and not make any major decisions.”

One reason for the lack of progress is because the faculty union sees the administration’s pay raise offers as inadequate, Miller said. Another reason is the administration’s unwillingness to provide benefits to part-time faculty that are already given to faculty in similar positions at other state institutions.

Part-time faculty are seeking basic job security, increased benefits—such as University retirement contributions and parental leave—and salary increases to reflect cost of living and inflation, Elmer said. 

“They have consistently been offering 2% raises,” Elmer said. “And the current market as far as labor negotiations right now is 4 and 5%.”

Part-time faculty have not received a raise since 2020, Elmer said.

As a single mom during a time of high inflation and cost of living, salary raises would help Elmer support her family, she said.

Part-time faculty receive contracts every semester, Elmer said. Part-time faculty with seniority who have shown loyalty—referring to the number of years and credits taught—to the University may receive a year-long contract, but this is not a guarantee.

This means many part-time faculty are unsure of whether they will have a course to teach during a given semester until near the beginning of that semester, Miller said.

“Because of restructuring in the environmental program, I nearly lost my job as part-time faculty last year, and I was able to move into another [department], which has not been the case for other faculty,” Elmer said.

The administration refused to discuss any of the part-time faculty’s demands at first, Elmer said. In September, the administration put forward their first consideration of benefits, proposing to allow part-time faculty to use parental leave under the category of sick leave for up to 40 hours over the semester. 

“I think it’s important to note that they refused to consider any of our benefit proposals until nine months into the process or eight months into the process,” Elmer said. “They just kept saying, ‘We’re not interested in discussing that at all.’”

Still, the administration does not view the current negotiations as being at an impasse, stated UVM Spokesperson Enrique Corredera in an Oct. 20 email.

Progress is being made with the able assistance of Federal Mediator Annie Rutsky of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service,” Corredera stated. “UVM continues to negotiate in good faith with the part-time faculty union.”

Richard Cate, Vice President for Finance and Administration, deferred the Cynic’s requests for comment to Corredera.

Moving forward, the intent is to bring in a fact-finder, a neutral actor from the Vermont Labor Board, who will look at the offers put up from the part-time faculty and administration and decide what is fair based on similar institutions’ part-time faculty agreements, Elmer said.

“We’re fairly confident we’re not going to have to settle for 2% raises in the current economic climate for higher ed,” Elmer said.

United Academics held a rally Oct. 20 from 12-1 p.m. on the Howe Library steps in support of the part-time faculty’s negotiations for benefits and pay. 

Speakers at the event included part-time faculty members, a member of the staff union and two student leaders, Elmer said. The participants came together in an effort to raise awareness about the situation and put pressure on the administration.

“UVM Staff United stands in solidarity with part-time faculty members who have been hard at work negotiating a contract and are now at impasse,” said Ellen Kaye, co-president of UVM Staff United. 

When UVM Staff United fought for their contract, the faculty union supported the staff, Kaye said. This time around, staff are happy to support part-time faculty in their fight, she said.

There is not a clear timeline for future negotiations, Elmer said. While there is a feeling of urgency for their members, part-time faculty are unwilling to agree to the terms the University is presenting.

United Academics delivered a petition asking for fair benefits and wages for part-time faculty to UVM President Suresh Garimella after Thursday’s rally, Elmer said. The petition has over 400 signatures from faculty, staff, students, and community members, and the faculty union will deliver it to the board of trustees Oct. 28.