In the words of one of my friends who served on the negotiating committee, we wrestled the best possible deal from our managerial adversaries. That is to say, the contract guarantees faculty annual wage increases that fail to keep up with the pace of inflation, and it makes our health care premiums look like the payment curve of a sub-prime mortgage. Marginal forms of compensation — summer course pay, overloads and merit bonuses — are bumped gently upwards while the core of the deal assures everyone of real income decline over the life of the contract. I’d like to believe we could have done better by threatening to walk off the job, but these are the sorts of things that most of my colleagues regard as “counterproductive” or “antique.”
Having said that, it’s difficult to imagine life without collective bargaining. Support staff in the humanities and social sciences, for example, organized a drive about five years ago and got their asses handed to them when their statewide colleagues in the sciences — who are paid more generously out of federal grants — voted against the union. Compared with their pay and benefits packages, ours appear to be quite sane and generous. Meantime, the casualization of academic labor continues unhindered, with term appointments and adjuncts comprising an enormous and poorly-compensated share of the institutional burden.
So here’s two inflation-adjusted cheers for industrial democracy. Without an organized bargaining unit to contend with, the University of Alaska would probably be freezing salaries across the board; refusing to appropriate funds for new hires who could not sustain themselves with federal grants; charging me rent for my office; metering my internet and electricity usage; insisting that I punch a time card each morning; and urging me to take a “proactive” approach to my own health by combing the earth for medicinal roots and berries while learning how to trepanate myself to relieve headaches and depression. And of course they’d have to hire at least three dozen new administrators to keep the trains running on time.