• Difficult for both sides
    February 24,2014

    The recent report in The Times Argus (Feb. 21) about contract negotiations between Goddard College and the union representing the faculty contains a number of errors and omissions that I am obliged to correct, both to clarify this matter for readers, as well as to hopefully help reach an agreement.

    Coming from a labor movement background, as the spouse of a union member, and having in the past negotiated several union labor contracts as a manager, I respect and understand the collective bargaining process. With the faculty (and separately the staff) having chosen to organize and be represented by a union, Goddard College’s obligation is to negotiate with the designated representatives of that union, and not to engage in side negotiations or in debates in the press with people who are not on the bargaining team.

    With Goddard facing real financial pressures, negotiating a contract is very difficult for both sides. It’s a process that started quite a while ago and I need to outline the timeframe and process in order to correct some mischaracterizations and omissions. The article refers to an email faculty members recently received from their bargaining team. I have not seen that, nor any other communication the union bargaining team may have had with faculty since this process started many months ago. All I can say is that some significant facts, as reported in the article, are wrong.

    The negotiation process started in spring 2013 for the fiscal year beginning last July. Because of Goddard’s financial situation, Goddard asked for significant compensation concessions from the union, obviously a very difficult proposal for the union to consider but also one that was hard for Goddard’s administration and board to put forward. At that time, a pay cut had already been put in place for all non-union employees — administrative, supervisory and senior management staff, and Goddard asked the union to consider this as well.

    Because it was clear that coming to an agreement would be difficult, Goddard proposed at the beginning of August 2013 that the parties agree to mediation. This request was rejected by the union negotiators. Goddard repeated the request to involve a mediator a number of times over the next few months, but the union did not agree to begin mediation until much more recently. From Goddard’s perspective, time was lost, and the finances tightened further over this time.

    From the beginning, Goddard’s administration provided the union negotiators with detailed financial information and responded to numerous specific information requests and updates in order for faculty negotiators to understand why it was necessary to ask for contract concessions. Because so much time was passing, Goddard had to actually increase the amount of the concessions being asked for in order to achieve any savings in the current year.

    At the end of the most recent mediation session, a compromise proposal was arrived at which the union negotiators agreed to put to a vote with a neutral recommendation (neither for nor against). Although we appreciate that this proposal was difficult for the union to accept, it was likewise a significant concession from where Goddard believed it needs to be. The proposal was a very significant step back from Goddard’s most recent proposals regarding pay and severance, and it was also a step back from what had initially been proposed back at the beginning of the process in spring 2013. In short, it was a compromise. So, while I fully understand that it is a difficult one for faculty members to consider, it was also a difficult and big compromise for the Goddard team to agree to.

    Based on the comments by faculty members in The Times Argus’ report, it’s hard for me to tell what was being communicated from union negotiators to the faculty throughout this whole process. It was Goddard that was requesting mediation almost from the beginning. Goddard College has now stepped back meaningfully from past positions in order to avoid impasse and the consequences of that. I hope the faculty will ratify this contract for the remainder of the academic year, and I have recommended to Goddard’s Board of Trustees that they accept this if the faculty does as well.

    Avram Patt is the chairman of Goddard College’s Board of Trustees and the school’s acting president.

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