After two years of contract negotiations, faculty members and the University of New Hampshire (UNH) administration made their final arguments to an independent factfinder earlier this month. The results of the factfinder’s report will be available in May. This comes after UNH proposed base salary freezes, reductions in salary minima, increased costs borne by employees for medical benefits, cuts to parental leave and a 2% cut to retirement.
Cliff Brown, president of the American Association of University Professors at UNH (AAUP-UNH) stressed the importance of settling a contract as inflation reaches a 40-year high.
“Not only are we not getting raises that we might have otherwise gotten had UNH been able to settle a fair contract,” he said. “But inflation is eating away at the salary we do have. So, in absolute dollars, our salaries are flat, but in real dollars, they’re actually going down.”
The union is hoping to secure a modest salary increase, maintain or increase current parental leave provisions and minimize the cost-shifting of medical plan costs onto employees. Brown maintained these benefits are interconnected, meaning that if the union accepted a salary increase in exchange for cut benefits, they would still be losing ground and would have to use their salaries to compensate.
“We’d still be in a worse off position than we are now,” he explained.
The current contract between the AAUP-UNH and the college began in February 2020. In July, leadership reached an impasse and mediation failed again on Oct. 27. A two-day fact-finding session was conducted by an independent party in late January. On Jan. 31, faculty members also delivered a petition to President James Dean demanding a fair contract. The petition received 454 signatures and was signed by 87% of the tenured and tenure-track faculty at the Durham and Manchester campuses.
In a February email from President Dean and Provost Wayne Jones to AAUP-UNH, the university asserted that the recent negotiations between Keene State College and their tenured faculty provides “clear guidance” on the changes the University System of New Hampshire (USNH) is seeking for medical plans, employee medical costs and retirement contributions. These medical plans have already been implemented for many UNH faculty and staff.
However, Brown doesn’t believe this reflects the reality of UNH as the only Carnegie Classification R1 research university in the University System of New Hampshire, or Dean’s goals to make UNH a Top 25 public university.
“How’s he going to square that with degrading our salaries and benefits to a level that’s comparable with schools that have a lot lower status and stature?” said Brown.
In response, Executive Director of Media Relations Erika Mantz reasserted that the university’s contract offers have been “benchmarked against higher education peers and are consistent with the university’s goals for financial sustainability.”
It will be another month until the factfinder issues its final report, but Brown is hopeful their findings will favor the union’s position and compel UNH to compromise on some of their proposals. However, as the report is not binding under New Hampshire labor laws and neither side is obligated to accept it, Brown believes there is a high probability the stalemate will continue. More faculty are also entering the bargaining process as the UNH Lecturer’s Union recently began their own contract negotiations.
“Ultimately, I think students suffer from [drawn-out negotiations] because that is attention and emotional energy that all members of the faculty are directing away from their classrooms and their scholarship,” said Brown.