We would like to apologize for the delay in getting further communications to you about our Executive Director (ED) transition. Moving forward, we will aim to send weekly messages to members with a focus on providing more transparency about our union. In this first update, we want to respond to some of the questions and concerns you have shared since our announcement last week.
Why didn’t AAUP renew the ED Contract?
While we would like to be more transparent about our decision, this is ultimately a personnel decision and we have been advised by counsel to keep information about our decision, including the rationale for it, confidential. The Executive Council is the employer of PSU-AAUP staff, and we take this responsibility seriously; just like you have protections for your personnel file within HR, we aim to provide similar protections for the staff we employ. Although we understand how this may look from the outside, this decision was neither capricious nor abrupt. Every year there is an annual review of staff and contracts are negotiated when they are set to expire. During the annual evaluation process, we ask recent member leaders who work most closely with staff to provide feedback. This decision was made through the process specified within the employment contract. Please refrain from pressuring individual AAUP members for confidential information related to this decision.
Phil Lesch has been with AAUP for a long time. He has significant institutional knowledge and legal expertise. How will AAUP continue to represent members with strength without Phil?
AAUP member leaders are confident in our ability to continue representing members through this transition in part because of a number of arrangements already in place that you may not know about:
Legal expertise: PSU-AAUP has worked closely with retained legal counsel for over 20 years who are true experts in labor law. We routinely bring them in for advice, though often behind the scenes. We have been in close communication with this team since before making our decision about the ED contract and we expect -- and they are prepared for -- us to bring them into more work than usual in the coming weeks as we navigate this transition.
Grievances and Representation in GDI complaints: This is a critical part of our work and we have prioritized immediately staffing up this area in three ways. First, we are not hesitating to refer complex cases to our legal counsel as needed. Protecting your rights is of utmost importance to us. Second, two former VPs of Grievances have stepped up to co-lead this work within AAUP: Jennifer Ruth and José Padin. Third, we are building and training a group of member volunteers to provide additional support, and to represent members in OGDI investigations.
This structure is common in other unions and is something that we plan to continue well beyond the ED transition period. Having a deeper pool of member-volunteers trained in this area will give us more flexibility and capacity to provide support than in the past, when almost all questions and cases first went through a single member-volunteer, the Vice President. We already have 5 volunteers-in-training; please reach out if you have an interest in joining this group!
Institutional Knowledge:While the “past president” role has always been officially part of the AAUP Executive Council, this year we have a past president, José Padín, who is active and engaged for the first time in AAUP’s recent history. By contrast, both of José’s predecessors -- Mary King & Pam Miller -- retired when their terms ended. Former AAUP member leaders have also recently formed a Retirees Caucus. Members of this group saw the union through the 2014 near-strike, and they bring formidable enthusiasm along with their expertise and experience. Additionally, it is the goal of the EC that we move towards a union that collectively shares the “institutional knowledge” in order to avoid siloing information and gatekeeping information.
Bargaining:We have a strong bargaining team, with many members who have been through negotiations for multiple contracts. It is clear from several emails received this week that we have failed to communicate to members how much member volunteers lead this work. All of the members of our CB Team are skilled, trained, and passionate about representing our collective interests. We are the only public higher education university in the state of Oregon to secure a COLA during 2020 bargaining at the height of the COVID pandemic; by contrast, both Oregon State and University of Oregon faculty unions agreed to contracts with triggers for pay cuts. Credit for such accomplishments is due to the member-volunteers who make up the CB Team. While it is true that Phil has been a part of the bargaining team during his time at PSU, his role has become less central over time. We have recently been able to provide increased course releases for bargaining team members allowing them to dedicate appropriate time to this work.
We would also like to remind you that all unions derive their strength through the strength of the membership -- it is the workers who have the labor power in this relationship, not any one member of the bargaining team. (Indeed, for those following union news outside the academy, this fall has seen a surge in worker-led power across numerous sectors.) Yes, we do have an economic reopener on the horizon, and we will have the most power at the table if you are in the room observing and showing the administration that you are serious about demanding a fair contract. Big contract gains are won by a show of strong member support through collective action. Our organizing team is ready to provide this activism and support.
Interim ED and other staff support:While we are very excited about the multiple candidates we have to step into interim roles, we are in the process of negotiations and aren’t quite ready to share names yet.
Finally, we understand you may be disappointed by the Executive Council’s decision. As an organization representing over 1000 members, it is unlikely that every decision we make will please every member. That being said, the EC did not make this decision lightly, and this decision was a great example of how challenging this work can be. We believe that this change is in the best interest of the membership as a whole. We would also, however, encourage you to be part of our democratic process. Participating in our union is the best way to ensure that your perspective is heard in governance decisions.