Havre Daily News
State university system negotiators have offered pay increases for faculty and staff members at Montana State University-Northern. The faculty union has asked for a larger increase, while the staff union is still considering its proposal.
Both unions also said Wednesday they will study how other colleges compensate their employees.
Negotiators have offered a raise approved by the Legislature and board of regents - a 3.5 percent increase this year in both base pay and points, and 4 percent for the 2006-2007 school year. An increase in the university's contribution to health insurance premiums has already taken effect. The school will contribute $6,072 this year, up from $5,520. Next year, the payment will increase to $6,684.
“What we gave them was an economic proposal, primarily,” Montana University System negotiator Kevin McRae said.
University officials have held two negotiating sessions with each union. Workers' contracts expired June 30. The new contracts will run through the summer of 2007.
The faculty union is proposing raises of 7.5 percent this year and 8 percent next year. The proposal affects both base salaries and points - which faculty members receive based on experience and other factors. The more points faculty members have, the higher their pay.
Federation of Teachers Local 4045 president Roger Stone said pay rates have affected the school's ability to recruit faculty members.
“Salaries have always posed a recruitment problem in all universities, not just ours,” Stone said. “Anything that makes it easier for us to attract and retain new faculty is good for us.”
He said the union is in the process of gathering salary information from schools across the country that are of similar size and offer similar programs.
Last month, the board of regents approved administrative salary increases for MSU-N. While most administrative staff members received a 3.5 percent raise, some got more. Some of those increases occurred when vacant positions were filled with new staff members. For example, David Gantt replaced Byron Ophus as the school's athletic director. Ophus earned $48,500 annually, while Gantt's salary is $75,000, an increase of more than 54 percent.
McRae said the increase and others was a recruitment tool and reflects a trend seen at other universities.
“Throughout the system, we do see significant increases over what thepredecessors were making,” he said.
Other raises approved by the regents reflect staff members receiving promotions or taking on more responsibility, McRae said.
Stone said faculty members understand the realities of recruitment.
“Obviously, this causes some members a lot of concern,” he said. “We realize those market realities. We look forward to extending that same model to faculty recruitment.”
Staff union president Christine Muller said members are still undecided on whether to ask for a larger pay increase. In a union meeting Wednesday night, the members chose to study wages across the state university system to determine which positions are underpaid, she said.
McRae said that if the union accepts Nothern's offer, some staffers would actually see an increase larger than 3.5 percent, because the offer includes a minimum raise of $1,005 this year and $1,188 next year.
“For some of the people ... that might be a 5 or 6 percent raise,” he said.
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees representatives also are negotiating with the university to make the pay increase for staffers retroactive to Oct. 1.
The union is working on a proposal to clarify the university's policy on hiring outside contractors to provide services at the school, Muller said.
The current contract has a provision that states the university must notify the union if it intends to study the possibility of contracting services that may affect the employment of its members, and the union can provide MSU-N with information and testimony before such a decision is made.
The union also is asking the university to automatically give interviews to union members who apply and qualify for open jobs at the school. In addition, it is asking that a union representative take part in all staff job search committees and be allowed to meet with all job candidates.
The union also is floating proposals that would make some temporary positions permanent and add eight hours of vacation time per year for employees who have worked five years or more.
The faculty union also wants to explore the possibilities posed by so-called “nontraditional delivery,” which refers to distance learning courses taught over the Internet, or hybrid classes, which combine distance learning with face-to-face class time.
“We believe nontraditional delivery offers untapped potential for the university,” Stone said. “I think the university has been quite progressive on that.”
Stone said he'd like the new contract to include provisions that will define compensation and workload for such courses.
The faculty union also is working on a proposal to clarify how experience points are calculated when an instructor receives a doctorate degree. That section of the contract, along with some others, needs to be clarified, Stone said.
Muller said staff union members also are seeking to clarify portions of their contract.
“We are working with them to come up with language that will be beneficial to both sides,” she said.
Muller and Stone both said negotiations have gone well so far. Staff union representatives will meet with university negotiators Nov. 7, and faculty union members will do so Nov. 8.