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EWU faculty contract talks reach impasse

Negotiations between the faculty union and administration at Eastern Washington University broke down this week and will move into mediation, stalled over salary and workload issues.

It’s the first time a mediator has been brought into the negotiations in the union’s decade of existence, and it represents a long-simmering frustration, said Tony Flinn, president of United Faculty of Eastern.

“I wouldn’t impute bad faith” to administrators, Flinn said. “But I really think the problem is a fundamental ignorance or indifference to the problems that have been developing over the past several years.”

Flinn and other faculty members said that while Eastern’s enrollments and class sizes have grown, its faculty salaries have stagnated, falling further behind other Washington schools and the national average. The union says that administration salaries, especially for the top positions, have risen steadily.

EWU administrators said they remained optimistic a fair contract can be reached. New President Rodolfo Arevalo, who took office April 1, said in a news release he was disappointed that the union had declared an “impasse” in negotiations, but noted that the negotiations had produced agreement on several topics, and were stuck on salary and workload concerns.

Brian Levin-Stankevich served as interim president before Arevalo was hired, and was special assistant to the president through Friday, his last day before leaving to take another job. He said he doesn’t believe the administration has been inflexible during the negotiations, which began last June. He also said there was little he could say publicly about them.

“We said early on we were going to negotiate at the table,” he said. “I believe we’ve been negotiating in good faith, however that’s portrayed by others.”

The faculty union says its members are underpaid compared with similar schools, with the lowest average salary for its level in Washington and the second-lowest among a group of peer institutions EWU uses in comparing performance and goals.

According to the American Association of University Professors, salaries for full and associate professors at Central Washington University increased at about twice the rate of Eastern between academic years 2000-01 and 2004-05.

In a letter sent to members of the UFE earlier this week, Flinn wrote that the average overall salary for Eastern faculty is $50,300 a year – compared with the average of $54,000 at Central and $56,600 at Western Washington. Faculty at those schools also recently earned raises of roughly 10 percent on top of that, the union said.

Those comparisons are based on data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. But other figures can be different depending on which faculty categories are included.

The state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board, in its annual report on higher education in Washington, says Central and Eastern have almost identical average salaries for full, associate and assistant professors of about $56,000, and Western is just over $58,000. Those figures don’t include lower-paid faculty ranks or part-timers.

Meanwhile, the letter says, the increases in administrative salaries have far outpaced faculty raises. The faculty gathered salary data for four of the top jobs at the school, and found they’d increased by 19 percent to 26 percent since 2001, not including more than $150,000 in bonuses. That’s several times the rate of increase for the faculty pay, depending on which measure is applied.

The union also said that while Eastern pays its professors less than Central or Western, it pays its new president, Arevalo, roughly the same, at $200,000 a year.

“We are through protecting the administration from the wrath of the faculty,” Flinn wrote in the letter.

EWU spokesman David Rey said that comparing administrative salaries and faculty salaries is difficult because they’re structured differently. Several administrators have been hired or shifted into different jobs at EWU in recent years, and he said salaries tend to rise when new people are hired for positions.

“The new president makes more than Dr. Jordan made,” he said, referring to former President Stephen Jordan. “It’s more complicated than just comparing percentages.”

Flinn said EWU’s low salaries are preventing it from attracting top faculty and from keeping rising, midcareer professors.

“There’s always, it seems, a greener pasture,” he said.

Though Arevalo, the new president, has not been around for the events leading to the current stalemate, Flinn said it’s crucial that he help solve it.

“He will have to become involved in order for this to be properly settled and speedily settled,” he said.

In a statement about the impasse, Arevalo said, “Certainly it is disappointing, but I remain optimistic and confident that we can craft a good and fair agreement with the faculty union. Negotiators on both sides have worked hard and made significant progress. There is a solid foundation there to build upon once we get past this challenge.”

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