Contract gives lecturers 3 percent raise, voice in online course implementation

A union representing over 3,000 lecturers almost unanimously ratified a labor agreement with the University of California in an online vote last week, according to a Monday press release from the UC Office of the President.

The newly ratified contract includes a 3 percent merit raise for the 2011-12 academic year for all eligible lecturers — those who did not receive a positive merit review or are on disciplinary probation — and defines the union’s role in negotiations over salaries, health care benefits and the implementation of the pilot for an online course program.

“We’ve got great faculty and great lecturers,” said Dianne Klein, spokesperson for the UC Office of the President.  “We don’t pay as well as comparable institutions, so were open to poaching. This was a little bump up — it’s not a lot — but it’s something.”

Though it is likely that the 3 percent increase will be repeated in the 2012-13 academic year, the chance of an additional raise in the subsequent year is still unclear, according to Bob Samuels, president of the University Council — American Federation of Teachers.

“We’re in tough financial straits,” Klein said. “We want to be fair. We want to retain our faculty, but the money’s got to come from somewhere. It’s a tough balancing act.”

Other changes to the contract limited the university’s ability to make changes that would impact union members without first consulting the union. For example, the new agreement stipulates that the UC must negotiate with the union to change the benefits members receive, according to Samuels.

Additionally, a newly created section of the contract clarified that the union has a voice in the implementation of an online course program. However, the agreement does not give the union veto power over the program.

“The union does not have the power to stop the online program,” said Klein. “Period. At all.”

However, the new section has helped to assuage union fears that the structure of the online course program would reduce the need for lecturers, according to Samuels.

“If they start a new online program that basically takes work away from lecturers or changes the work of lecturers, they have to negotiate,” Samuels said.

But Klein said that the online program could provide an opportunity for lecturers.

“Why can’t you look at it as a glass half full?” she said. “What if a tenured faculty member says I don’t want do that, that would mean more work for lecturers.”

For the university, part of the goal in this round of negotiations, which began in January, was to equalize the benefits the various unions were receiving.

Only two of 500 union voting lecturers disapproved of the agreement, citing that they wanted to be paid as much as Academic Senate faculty, according to Samuels.

“It’s a pretty straightforward agreement, and we’re certainly happy we’ve reached it. I think the university has a good strong relationship with the lecturers,” said Klein.

This month, the UC has also reached labor agreements with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299, which represents more than 20,000 UC employees, as well as with the librarians’ union.