AAPR Should Remove Unions From Recs

The Academic and Administrative Program Review Steering Committee has now made a series of public presentations and released a summary of its work to date. There is a lot to digest, but dotted throughout both the presentations and the summary report is information about employee costs — specifically those of the unionized hourly employees — and what appear to be implicit recommendations regarding the number of unionized employees, their wages and benefits, and the way the work they do is provided.

It is not necessary to take a position on the information provided — whether our unionized workers are overpaid, or have benefits that are too generous, or should be eliminated, or have their jobs outsourced — in order to agree that all discussions and recommendations related to our hourly workers should be removed from whatever the AAPR ultimately presents to the Oberlin community, President Ambar, and the Board of Trustees. That is for four reasons.

First, recommendations concerning the unionized workers do not need to be part of the AAPR. Budget-cutting is taking place through multiple processes, some AAPR, but also actions by the College Faculty Council to cut faculty positions, and ongoing administrative efforts to increase efficiencies. If the Board of Trustees has some target of cuts, they will not care where they originate or how they are arrived at as long as in aggregate they meet that target. Changes to the terms and conditions of hourly workers can and should be achieved outside the AAPR. 

Second, the AAPR has no business offering recommendations relating to hourly employees. The AAPR Steering Committee includes representatives for faculty, students, administrators, alumni and trustees, but not a single representative for the unions on campus. Not one of its 52 consultative outreach meetings over the last 10 months has been with the unions. The General Faculty body that will vote on the AAPR recommendations also contains no hourly employee representatives. The AAPR process lacks both the knowledge and legitimacy to make recommendations in this area.

Third, faculty and students should not be asked to weigh in ahead of time on one side of the collective bargaining process. Collective bargaining is regulated by federal labor law. If the senior administration wants to task the Department of Human Resources and its legal team with seeking changes to employment terms and conditions in upcoming collective bargaining, it is welcome to try. But this is for the bargaining parties only. AAPR is not party to those negotiations, it should not be interfering in them, and the broader Oberlin community should not be urged to endorse a particular bargaining position, particularly in the absence of any voice for the hourly employees affected.

Fourth, much of the data used to derive hourly wage comparisons come from institutions whose equivalent employees are not unionized, and some of the recommendations appear to involve removing current College positions from the unionized bargaining units. As such, the recommendations are at a minimum hostile to unionization, and at worst, tantamount to union-busting, and have no place in a set of recommendations that seek broad community endorsement.

For these reasons, the AAPR should excise all references and recommendations to hourly employees from its reports going forward. The Human Resources Department is perfectly capable of developing a collective bargaining strategy without AAPR, and neither AAPR, the elected faculty governance committees, nor the General Faculty has standing to intervene in that process. If the AAPR final report does make claims or recommendations with regard to the hourly employees, we should refuse to endorse it. I certainly will.