Every three years, our union bargains with the administration to come up with a new contract. This process, which drags on for months and even years, takes commitment and perseverance from the FSU bargaining team as they face UMB administrators and their lawyers. At the end, members receive a tentative agreement and vote to ratify it.
Although negotiating behind closed doors is rarely questioned, the process has many drawbacks . Rank and file faculty and librarians are minimally aware of what is at stake at the bargaining table. The bargaining team is small, meaning that there are gaps in expertise. The team is also stretched thin, unable to pursue all avenues for fact-finding and outreach. And the administration does not have to confront the real power behind the union: a large, diverse, and formidable membership.
Fortunately, there is successful precedent for an alternative model of bargaining. Across the state and country, unions like ours have adopted open bargaining to combat these problems. Rank and file union members and even non-union community members are invited into the negotiating sessions to observe and testify. Members are involved in every step of the process. Open bargaining lends the union legitimacy and real power – power that we give up by continuing to bargain behind closed doors.
At Rutgers, the faculty union utilized open bargaining in their recent victory. The transition to open bargaining started after a tentative agreement got a lot of NO votes (much as happened with our parking contract in the Fall). That was a wake-up call to make bargaining more transparent and accountable and to mobilize members throughout the process. Even before bargaining began, members held workshops and wrote white papers with others in the university community, including students. During bargaining, members did not just sit silently in the back row. Some made compelling presentations about particular issues, giving more people a direct stake in the process.
Did management like this? Absolutely not. No longer free to make outrageous demands behind closed doors, at Rutgers management even walked out of a few bargaining sessions. Faculty unions that adopt open bargaining have to be ready for that. Bottom line is that through open bargaining the union shows its collective strength in the face of an administration that wishes to divide us.
In addition to Rutgers, many other faculty unions engage in open bargaining, including faculty at Temple University and adjunct and part-time faculty unions organized by the Service Employees International Union. The Massachusetts State College Association, which represents state universities like Worcester State, Framingham State and Salem State, has just voted to adapt open bargaining. In addition, many of the K-12 unions in Massachusetts use open bargaining and the Massachusetts Teachers Association endorses it. As educators are discovering the power of collective action, now is the time for the FSU to adopt open bargaining!