[Note: In an effort to keep our members informed as PSUFA enters collective bargaining negotiations, we will be publishing daily updates with observations about each session. On Tuesday, PSUFA presented 3 proposals related to pay parity, health care coverage, and compensation for late and cancelled course assignments. We proposed raising the minimum per credit pay so that it's equal to what a full-time non-tenure-track faculty receives for the same work. This included a pay increase aligned with faculty rank, (as our current adjunct ranks don't correlate to anything monetary) and a structure for cost of living increases. Regarding health insurance, our proposal was that adjunct faculty have access to an employer subsidized plan (similar to what is offered at PCC). And finally, PSUFA proposed increasing pay and timeframes for late contracts and course cancellations, making sure adjunct faculty get compensation if their contracts come less than 5 weeks before the start of the term and that they are compensated for prep time if a class is cancelled at the last minute.]
The nadir of a long, frustrating first day of negotiating came when a Portland State Dean thoughtfully explained to the PSUFA Bargaineers the institution for which we all work exists on a “hand to mouth” basis.
PSU's perpetual status as the ugly stepsister of those other schools aside, this is a phrase no one making six figures should ever utter in the company of adjuncts. Particularly moments after learning that a quarter of PSUFA members report living in households making less than $25,000 a year, and having heard the testimonies of a half dozen adjuncts about the difficulties they face gaining adequate health care, clarifying, to borrow the words of one PSUFA member, "The whole school food chain.” The bargaining team leaders politely but firmly stepped them back from this remark.
Any pretense of collaborative bargaining had long since crumbled by that point. For much of the day, the most vocal member of the Admin team was a wheezing lap dog belonging to someone on the other side of the table. Admin deemed even the simplest decisions beyond the realm of expressing opinions, polysyllabic responses, coin tosses, rock-paper-scissors, or even the thumbs up-neutral-down technique they agreed to use during last Friday’s training. The looks of distaste on their faces when confronted by our upward projecting thumbs made for an entertaining tableau. We definitely weren't going to be allowed to sit with the cool kids any time soon.
Months after proposing we adopt an intensive three day bargaining model, Admin sat at the table offering nothing more than “supposals” rather than proposals. While we appreciated the concept of supposals--who would not want to daydream idly about asking whether anyone on the other side of the table had put forth a supposal about showing up prepared to collaborate?--we could not help but wonder whether "preparationals" might have contributed to the work slated for the day.
Fortunately, we repeatedly heard, “We’re willing to listen…” By the end of the morning session we developed a coffee, tea, and water drinking game based upon the phrase, and the other keyword we kept hearing, "appreciate". By lunch your Bargaineers felt heard, appreciated, and adequately hydrated. We did not feel as though we were engaged in productive negotiations, unfortunately.
So then... Admin parried our proposals about pay parity until they had seen the rest of our agenda items (with a distinct undercurrent of muted disappointment we would ask for so much money for our members), and the other side of the table met our proposals about health care with apparent befuddlement PSUFA members considered it such a high priority. As you know, the university became concerned about the legality of the health care fund late in fall quarter and insisted, based on contested legal advice, we agree to its suspension. Today we heard, regardless of whether the original contract language may or may not ultimately prove to comply with federal law, the university had, "no interest in being on that precipice." Clearly the university appears somewhat less discomforted by the prospect many of its hard working adjuncts teeter over their own economic abysses should they experience a serious or unexpected medical misfortune.
Your Bargaineers did not feel shocked about failing to reach immediate agreements on these articles--our intention going into negotiations was to front load the most difficult agenda items--but we did wonder whether Admin had mistakenly thought negotiations were not scheduled to begin until Wednesday. Hey, it could happen.
Our final proposal for the day, concerning contract deadlines, late appointments and cancellation procedures, actually seemed to interest our esteemed colleagues, or maybe lunch made them more affable. In any case, they at last engaged in conversation about the topics we presented...If only to fret about the potential hardships that abiding by the new, simpler provisions we proposed for the CBA might create for chairs and administrators. "Explainable and trainable," became our mock drinking game phrase for the afternoon.
The PSUFA bargaining team gradually extracted a hushed admission from management that they, too, intended to put forth proposals, and graciously offered to rearrange the remaining agenda for the week so as to ensure Admin receives its chance to play some role in collaborative bargaining. A more cynical observer might suspect them of engaging in a strategy of listening to our proposals impassively until our voices gave out and then presenting their own as a fait accompli come Thursday afternoon. You know, as a way of putting the "lab'rat" in collaboration. We shall see...
*Although we did hold one secret squirrel meeting in a unisex bathroom.