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Contract negotiations between NMU, faculty union continue

MARQUETTE — Contract negotiations between Northern Michigan University and the NMU-American Association of University Professors faculty union remain ongoing.

The current contract is set to expire at the end of this month, meaning the deadline to reach a new agreement is fast approaching.

The union most recently presented an offer to the school administration for a five-year contract, with pay increases of 2.5% in years one, two and three, and 3% in years four and five. The union also requested a market adjustment to put faculty salaries more in line with the national average, according to its chief negotiator, NMU chemistry professor Dr. Lesley Putman.

“On top of (pay increases) and most importantly, we’re asking for a market adjustment, meaning that we compare our salaries to those of professors throughout the nation based on discipline and rank,” she said. “Using that data, we’re asking for an adjustment to anyone’s salary who was below that that average in the database.”

The administration, however, rejected the proposed market adjustment Wednesday.

“They took the market adjustment off the table,” Putman said. “That was the most important thing we were asking for. It was said at the table more than once that this is our priority. Whenever we hire new people, we have to hire them below the current people, and if the current people are way below market value, it’s hard to get good people on.”

According to data provided by the union, NMU ranks second to last out of the 11 public universities across Michigan who reported data for average total compensation. The school is 9.26% below the average amount that other public universities across the state budget for instruction. The University of Michigan tops this list at more than 30% above average, while the University of Michigan-Flint is the only school to rank below NMU at more than 10% below the state median. Lake Superior State University, Eastern Michigan University and Western Michigan University did not report compensation data.

According to Putman, the administration rejected the market adjustment because it believed the union wouldn’t budge on the matter.

“Their formula was slightly different than ours,” she said. “They wanted to cap (the market adjustment) at $4,000 per person, and we didn’t want any caps. Because we were not agreeing, they felt like we were at an impasse about the market adjustment, so they just took it off the table.”

Putman, however, claims the union has moved three times.

“We’ve made three different adjustments to our version of the market adjustment,” she said. “It’s not like we haven’t moved at all. We have, but we haven’t moved enough, apparently. It’s only an impasse in their eyes, in my opinion. We made an adjustment to our market and have modified our market adjustment proposal twice, but apparently it’s not enough.”

Dr. Dwight Brady, union president and multimedia journalism professor, said his side simply wants a deal that better reflects the averages of other universities.

“We are not asking for the moon, we just want to keep up with inflation and catch up to our state and national peers,” he said. “The Board of Trustees and the administration tell us how great of a job we are doing, but their financial offer says you’re not worth investing in.

“This is not just about the here and now, it is about whether NMU will remain competitive in the future. How can we recruit top talent with below-average pay?”

Negotiations for a new deal began earlier this year. The administration’s initial offer called for a two-year contract with no pay increase to base pay over two years with a one-time 1% bonus, according to a previous Journal article. The union was originally seeking a three-year deal to keep faculty compensation in line with other universities in the region.

Last year, the union ratified its present one-year contract just days before the expiration of its previous contract.

The administration provided the Journal with the following statement on Wednesday:

“We look forward to continued talks concerning the topics that are on the table and moving through the negotiation process towards a mutual agreement. We will continue to work through issues, including salaries, with both the Board of Trustees and the faculty union in a timely manner. The current contract goes through June 30, 2021.”

Should a deal not be reached by June 30, the union would have to make an agreement with the administration to continue working under the current contract.

As for next steps, Putman is unsure yet.

“The next step would be for us to come back with a counterproposal,” she said. “We don’t know what we’re going to do. We just got this (Wednesday). It’s obviously not going to be acceptable to us. We’re going to have to figure out what we’re going to do next.”

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