University of Alaska administration files unfair labor complaint against faculty union

An administration spokesperson said United Academics hadn’t meaningfully moved in its bargaining positions

By: - October 1, 2022 5:55 am
University of Alaska President Pat Pitney delivers remarks on June 2 at a board of regents meeting on the UAA campus. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

University of Alaska President Pat Pitney delivers remarks on June 2 at a board of regents meeting on the UAA campus. On Friday, the university administration filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the faculty union. (Photo by Yereth Rosen/Alaska Beacon)

The University of Alaska administration filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the faculty union Friday. The two parties have been negotiating a new faculty contract for more than a year.

Speaking on behalf of the administration, associate vice president of public affairs Robbie Graham said Friday that United Academics engaged in “surface bargaining,” or merely going through the motions of bargaining “with no meaningful movement in its bargaining positions.”

For example, Graham said the union “canceled meetings, ended bargaining sessions early, cut the cadence of meetings in half, withheld the introduction of critical articles, and delayed the start of the mediation process we mutually agreed upon as we strived toward a mutually acceptable agreement.” 

The complaint said the union employed “delay tactics” that led to the administration’s inability to get the intended wage increases in front of the Legislature in a timely fashion. And it said the union repeatedly proposed subjects to be included in the contract that would be unenforceable. 

The complaint followed one United Academics filed against the administration a month ago. The union’s complaint alleged the university administration unlawfully declared an impasse, illegally implemented its “best and final offer” and engaged in direct bargaining with the faculty through email updates, bypassing the negotiation team. 

University administration filed a response on Friday to United Academics’ Aug. 29 complaint calling it “baseless.” The administration’s response says the union is the “obstructionist party” and requests that the union’s complaint be “summarily dismissed without further investigation.” 

The two parties recently met in federal mediation on Wednesday. After that session, Abel Bult-Ito said he was disappointed. The union had “high hopes” going into the meeting but “the university administration is back to stalling.” Bult-Ito is professor of neurobiology and neurophysiology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and president of the faculty union. 

Bult-Ito said the administration hiring an outside contractor to be chief lead negotiator is problematic and not a good use of state funds. 

“When you hire an outside contractor, their financial incentive is to drag out negotiations as much as they can to get maximum financial benefit,” he said. 

Graham said David Eisenberg is one of the administration’s lead negotiators. The university contracted with Eisenberg in March 2021. “Previous union negotiations had been led by UA’s chief human resource officer, but with turnover in that position, the university was without a lead negotiator,” Graham explained in May. 

With multiple contracts to be negotiated simultaneously in 2021-2022, Graham said, it was impossible for the UA Labor Relations team to handle all three contract negotiations.

The university pays Eisenberg $100 per hour and the total contract amount is capped at $180,000. The contract expires at the end of the calendar year, according to Graham. 

The university administration and the faculty union have another federal mediation session scheduled for Oct. 10. 

Graham said Friday the administration’s negotiating team is committed to continuing negotiations to reach a fair contract with United Academics. Though, “time is of the essence,” she said as the university is developing its next budget proposal for Board of Regents approval in early November. The Legislature will consider the proposal during the Legislative session that begins in January, for a budget that begins next July.


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Lisa Phu
Lisa Phu

Lisa Phu covered justice, education, and culture for Alaska Beacon. Previously, she spent eight years as an award-winning journalist, reporting for the Juneau Empire, KTOO Public Media, KSTK, and Wrangell Sentinel. She's also been Public Information Officer for the City and Borough of Juneau, lead facilitator for StoryCorps Alaska based in Utqiagvik, and a teacher in Tanzania and Bhutan. Originally from New York, Lisa is a first generation Chinese American and a mom of two young daughters. She can be contacted at [email protected]