Negotiation Updates - July 8, 2014

The Negotiation Process

Conversations at the WMU/WMU-AAUP bargaining table continue to be cordial and both teams are working hard to deliver an agreement that provides the foundation for a positive and productive work environment for our faculty. We thought it would be helpful to provide a short description of how the bargaining process works in order to clear up some common misunderstandings.

At the start of negotiations, each team provides a list to the other of the articles of the Agreement they propose to “open” for negotiations. Next, the team works together to create a draft proposal for changes in the article they seek to open, which is then submitted to the other team. Teams often share questions and dialogue about the proposal, before the receiving team comes back with its proposed language. Teams exchange a number of different versions of proposals before common ground is reached. Because proposals go back and forth several times, the information shared about a proposal is typically only valid until the next version(s) is proposed/exchanged.

Not only is the language contained within each proposal valid for a very short period, the discussion about the proposed language can be only as good as is the shared understanding of that language. That is why open dialogue and two-way debate at the table is so crucial for optimal negotiations. The short life of the proposed language in each version, along with the ever-changing nature of proposed language in each version, often accompanied by minimal dialogue, are reasons why “news updates” regarding specific versions/proposals often lead to inaccurate and misleading ideas about what might be occurring at the bargaining table. In other words, news updates are mere snapshots of a moving target, and cannot provide most of the rich context necessary for understanding and accurately evaluating the merits of a specific proposal.

We hope this abbreviated description of the negotiation process helps our colleagues better evaluate the relevancy and/or accuracy of the news they may hear at any single moment or from any single source about what is happening at the bargaining table.

Semi-monthly Pay schedule

After much study and research, WMU is implementing a semi-monthly payroll in the 2015-16 fiscal year for salaried employees. We have informed the WMU-AAUP of this intent and provided information regarding the process that was tailored for faculty. With semi-monthly payroll there will always be 24 pay periods per year. This transition is occurring to remedy the problem of “calendar creep”, which would have occurred again in the coming fall of 2014. Many readers may remember what happened when “calendar creep” impacted WMU faculty twice before. Instead of dividing our annual salary into 26 equal bi-weekly pay periods, calendar creep creates a situation where the rotation of the bi-weekly pay schedule ends up with a “left-over” 27th pay period. Having a 27th pay period results in lower pay per pay period even though the salary remains the same for the year. Regardless of the number of pay periods, your salary and related benefits will remain the same (semi-monthly pay will not impact/reduce your benefits).  For your reference, we have attached the information shared with the WMU-AAUP.

Western will be moving toward a semi-monthly pay period. We anticipate that our negotiation efforts will focus on addressing language and conditions necessary to “keep the faculty whole” as a result of the change to semi-monthly pay periods. Of course, we are committed to working with the WMU-AAUP to modify the Agreement in the very few places where it might be required in order to accomplish consistency with this goal.

Shared Governance. Article 37: Long-range Planning

Western values the WMU-AAUP as an important partner in achieving the University's mission of being learner centered, discovery driven and globally engaged. The existing language of Article 37 provides for the WMU-AAUP to recommend a representative to any long term strategic planning committee that is formed by the president. We agree that it is important to protect the participation of the WMU-AAUP on long-range planning committees, so that it is able to represent and speak to impacts—whether positive or negative— that may result from these planning processes. For that reason, we are eager to clarify and guarantee the scope and role of WMU-AAUP’s contributions to these processes in our current negotiations.

At WMU, faculty governance is shared across different entities at different institutional levels, each with their unique role and scope of responsibility, of which the WMU-AAUP is but one. The WMU-AAUP is a valued partner in monitoring and/or making recommendations to many such processes, but the Administration must retain the right to designate the membership, as well as the scope and responsibility, of any institutional long-range strategic or planning committees. WMU-AAUP representation is just one of several ways to honor WMU's commitment to shared governance and ensure faculty input and feedback is always part of strategic and long-range planning.

Wellness Program

Since 2006, Western has offered a wellness program that is currently administered by Holtyn Associates. This program has spanned several contract periods. The wellness program offers employees the ability to undergo a “health risk assessment”, which prompts suggestions for leading a healthier life. Many WMU-AAUP members, wishing to be better informed about their health (and, as educators, don’t we all believe that being better informed is empowering?) have participated in the wellness program over the years, and have undergone the “health risk assessment”.  

Contrary to what you may have heard or read, Western has not altered or reduced any of the current wellness program's benefits.  Rather, Western has offered to enhance a single aspect of the wellness program.  Western is offering a small reduction to the employee's health insurance premium as a monetary incentive to become better informed, and perhaps healthier, by taking the "health risk assessment" and undertaking some of the measures recommended for you to lead a healthier life. The wellness program has always been voluntary and participation remains a personal choice.

This incentive has now been rolled-out to all non-faculty employee groups. However, Western cannot offer the enhancement incentive to faculty unless it is agreed to by the WMU-AAUP.  So, even if Western and the WMU-AAUP can't reach agreement, you'll still be able to continue accessing and utilizing the wellness program just as you did in the past; just without the incentive.  But, because we believe it would help promote wellness, we are hopeful of offering the enhancement incentive to WMU-AAUP members and have therefore brought the issue to the negotiating table.

Of course, Western remains respectful of each individual. We want to provide you with an opportunity to learn more about your health and achieve your personal goals. But you must decide if you are comfortable with participation. Western will maintain the wellness program for you, regardless of whether or not the incentive becomes available to you.

Health Care Plan

Western shared historical costs, market trends and comparisons to other health care plans so that there was a common understanding about the WMU health care plan.  It is important to understand that WMU pays the full cost of health care claims since we are self-insured. We pay Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan to administer our plan. But WMU pays all of the costs reimbursed to health care providers that are incurred by each individual employee, spouse, and dependents, if any.  Western carefully manages the plan to contain cost growth. But, medical costs continue to increase. And, the Affordable Care Act has added taxes and fees that Western must pay. As Western’s costs go up, so do the costs to our employees. As an employee, you have a deduction each pay period for health care coverage. When health care costs escalate, you end up paying more in health care premiums, and receive less in net pay.  Therefore, it benefits both Western and the employee to have an open discussion on health care costs and plan design. And, it is mutually beneficial to work together to design a health plan that provides excellent benefits while containing costs.

To conclude:

We hope this somewhat extended update has provided you useful information for understanding the process we use and many of the issues we are addressing this summer in negotiations with the WMU-AAUP. After last week’s short holiday break, we are looking forward to today to our vigorous conversations at the bargaining table.