Wednesday, July 6, 2022

UNTF negotiates tentative agreement to contract with MSU

May 26, 2022
<p>Union of Non-Tenure Track Faculty President Kate Birdsall stands outside of Cowles House on Sept. 25, 2021. She joined the Graduate Employee Union in a protest called &quot;Wide Awake,&quot; asking for stronger COVID-19 policies.</p>

Union of Non-Tenure Track Faculty President Kate Birdsall stands outside of Cowles House on Sept. 25, 2021. She joined the Graduate Employee Union in a protest called "Wide Awake," asking for stronger COVID-19 policies.

Photo by Chloe Trofatter | The State News

The Union of Non-Tenure Track Faculty, or UNTF, has negotiated contract terms with MSU and created a 2022-2026 Collective Bargaining Agreement to share with union members.

This agreement summarizes the agreements reached with MSU and is tentative, pending ratification from UNTF members.

UNTF President Kate Birdsall calls this a “historic win” for the union.

“I have spent two years cultivating relationships across this campus, not necessarily as a way of getting us to a good place for bargaining, but because collaboration is how we get things done around here,” Birdsall said. “And that really, I think, paid off.”

Dues-paying UNTF members have until June 7 to vote on a Qualtrics survey to ratify the collective bargaining agreement. UNTF represents about 750 people and about half are full members who will be voting. If the agreement is approved, the changes will go into effect for all union members.

“There’s this idea that the union always needs to be opposed to management and in many cases, that is true,” Birdsall said. “But we were able to engage in a type of bargaining called interest-based bargaining on some of our non-economic issues and that got us really, really far.”

Before this year’s contract bargaining sessions, UNTF engaged in positional bargaining, which is when the union and the administration are rigid in their demands. 

“It quickly became apparent that having longer, informal, real discussions was going to be the way to get us, for example, additional job security, a pathway to promotion for all members, public-facing mutual respect, etc.,” Birdsall said. “We engaged in that and it took a little longer, but I’m glad we did it.”

Compensation package

UNTF and MSU agreed on a 3.5% increase to all union members’ May 2022 salaries.

“We were able to address salary compression in kind of the middle salary bands, we negotiated a financial incentive for promotion and we got larger yearly raise pools than we’ve ever gotten,” Birdsall said.

They also reached an agreement to adjust the salary minimums, starting in October. Lecturers, assistant instructors, instructors and specialists will have a salary minimum of $45,000 for an academic year. 

Salary minimums for the academic year for assistant professors will be $55,000, for associate professors will be $60,000 and for professors will be $70,000. In 2022, all assistant professor salaries will be brought to $59,000 per year. This is a more than $20,000 salary increase for some union members.

“We have a lot more work to do on salary,” Birdsall said. “But we got more than I’d hoped for. We did a survey of our members in February and compensation was the most important thing. We had people that, actually right now until we ratify the contract, make $38,000 a year. That will no longer be the case.”

Increased job security and online teaching opportunities

If the agreement is approved, these changes will also give union members the opportunity for more pathways to promotion. 

“In some colleges, promotion is a thing that has happened outside of being mandated by the collective bargaining agreement,” Birdsall said. “Not all colleges behave in the way we would like and therefore, we entered this cycle saying we really need to codify this.”

If UNTF members were promoted between 2018 and 2022, they will receive an additional $2,000 added to their base salary.  The agreement also says that the rank of “Senior Instructor” will be established, giving instructors an opportunity to be promoted. 

“If you are an instructor, meaning you’re teaching without a terminal degree, you’re just kind of stuck there forever,” Birdsall said. “And we recognize that to be a serious problem.”

There will also be more identified pathways to promotion, including an opportunity for faculty to apply for “Designation B,” which is a designation based on teaching excellence. If a faculty member meets the required criteria and reaches the designation, then their appointment will be extended to five years. 

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“We got five years, it used to be three,” Birdsall said. “Getting the promotion stuff is a really big deal for our people and getting job security in the form of Designation B is a big deal.”

The contract states that UNTF employees who are at least 50% full-time will also have the opportunity to be covered for online teaching if they teach at least one in-person course or if they teach courses mirrored on the main campus. 

Mutual respect

UNTF also negotiated for more opportunities to give their members mutual respect with the administration.

“Things have changed at Michigan State and we are no longer hired to fill in the gaps on the schedule, we are hired to be the teaching faculty at the university and we teach a whole lot of students every year,” Birdsall said.

The “memorandum of understanding” will ask departments and colleges to stop putting UNTF faculty on a separate webpage and referring to them as “fixed-term.” 

“We do not like that term,” Birdsall said. “We have to have it on our business cards or in our email signature and we think that is just idiotic. My Ph.D. is just as good as the person down the hall who’s in the research system.”

An MSU College of Law faculty member on the bargaining team also rewrote the grievance article which will allow the union to have conversations with university management if its members have experienced a contract violation.

The rewritten article addressed the time to grievance and added an informal step. In most cases, grievances are resolved informally.

The enttire contract relies on the grievance article and the rewrite made it stronger to allow for more effective communication, Birdsall said.

“For a long time, these folks felt like we were being treated as less than, as second class, as temps, and that’s not the case,” Birdsall said. “Once it’s ratified, we will have a contract that says that’s not the case.”

Moving forward

If these contract changes are approved by UNTF members on June 7, Birdsall will notify MSU’s chief negotiators to put together the contract, proofread it and then formally sign it. 

Deputy spokesperson Dan Olsen noted that this agreement is in alignment with MSU’s 2030 Strategic Plan. 

“We’re pleased to have reached a tentative agreement with the leadership of the union for non-tenured faculty,” Olsen said. “That does truly underscore the university’s commitment to faculty success, which is a key principle of MSU’s 2030 Strategic Plan.”

Birdsall is excited about the changes outlined in the agreement. 

“I feel really good about this,” Birdsall said. “I’m happy with what we’ve done and I said at the beginning, to the MSU bargaining team, ‘I want us all to leave feeling good about this.’ I’m hopeful that they are also happy with what we’ve done.”

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