An Evaluation of a Collective Bargaining Agreement between a Union Christian College faculty and Staff Union (UCCFSU -SMP-NATOW) and their University Employer

By Elmer D. Noriega

 

  On August 1, 2016, a signing ceremony was held for a collective bargaining agreement between the university (hereinafter referred to as “the University”) and Union Christian College faculty and Staff Union (hereinafter referred to as “the Labor Union”). As representatives of both the Labor Union and the University management signed the collective agreement, it marked an end to the labor disputes that had continued for more than a year and established a new employment relationship. In this article, I would like to review the content of the collective agreement, and the reasons why it took such a long time, in the anticipation of some lessons against making the same mistakes in the next collective bargaining sessions.

The negotiating panels of both parties began their bargaining sessions on February 5, 2015. The Labor Union’s negotiating team was composed of seven persons: 6 Executive board officers and one observer from the SMP-NATOW. The University negotiating team consisted of six persons:university legal counsel - the chief negotiator, a team leader in charge of general affairs, and the staff member responsible for managing the affairs of the campus, HR officers and the rest are the Deans of the different colleges. During the first negotiating session, when the University team submitted the counterproposal to the Labor Union, the Labor Union showed in the collective bargaining minutes that the previous University bargaining representative had already agreed to 50 of the 80 items. However, in the next session dated February 10, 2015 the Union and the University had deadlock on the issue of the status of employment.

In this action, the Labor Union filed a complaint with the NCMB against the University president, the general manager, a team leader in charge of general affairs, and the new chief negotiator for voluntary arbitration because the aforementioned issue can no longer be resolved by the two parties.

In April 4, 2016, after investigation and dialogue with the NCMB director, the latter mandated the party to go back to the negotiation table and deferred the issue on status of employment however resolving first the other issues before going back to the deferred issue. The University accepted some of the Labor Union’s demands, and both parties managed to reach agreement on 20 items, including union activities.


 

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On April 13 2015, major disputes moved on to job security, protection of union activities, and allowance of paid time off for one full-time union officer. In terms of job security, the Labor Union demanded extension of the retirement age to 65 (instead of the current 60 years of age), in light of over 20 union members expecting to have to retire at the end of the year if this was not done. By April 27, 2015, the number of union members had dropped to just half of the total due to the implementation of the K+12 leading to the migration of the faculty members to the public school. In this worsening situation, the Labor Union had to withdraw their demand for extension of the retirement age of 65, and instead accepted that the University would work to protect job security. As the Labor Union could not perform union activities for a long time without a collective agreement, it seems to have decided that the next best alternative was to accept realistic measures. The Labor Union then suggested to the University that a working level negotiating team be formed to draw up a collective agreement as soon as possible, which the University accepted. This working-level team consisted of three members of the Labor Union and three University representatives. The working level negotiating teams reached agreement on all remaining items and finalized the collective agreement.

Although a reasonable collective agreement between the University and the Labor Union was ultimately concluded, one major problem was the length of time it took: 18 months. There were two reasons for this. Firstly, the Labor Union first draft proposal contained many items that infringed on the employer’s personnel and managerial rights, and demands for working conditions and union activities beyond what the University could afford to accept. Secondly, the University had no specialized staff with the knowledge of labor laws necessary for dealing with a labor union. As the Labor Union received professional support from its umbrella union SMP-NATOW, the University decided to hire an outside labor specialist for the professional legal support they lacked. Due to a failure to cooperate and compromise, the Labor Union and the University were unable to conclude a collective agreement except after labor disputes and a significant amount of time and effort.

Despite the aforementioned problems, the final collective agreement was accepted by both parties. The Labor Union was recognized as a labor union, receiving an office and workers’ lounges, paid time-off for union activities, and additional off-days, etc. For its part, the University also views the outcome as a success, as it was able to protect its personnel and managerial rights as an employer, and sign a sustainable collective agreement. It is desirable that the resulting agreement, concluded after much struggle, will play a pivotal role in maintaining peace between labor and management, and allow both parties to base their labor relations on a win-win situation.