THE IMPASSE between administrators and the faculty union over employment terms threatens to be a repeat of the labor troubles experienced by the University more than two decades ago.

Disagreements between the University of Santo Tomas Faculty Union (USTFU) and the UST administration over a new, five-year collective bargaining agreement (CBA) have led to a deadlock, which could be a prelude to a strike.

Vice Rector for Academic Affairs Clarita Carillo, in a Feb. 17 letter to administrative and academic officials, bared the reasons why negotiations failed, but promised to exert efforts to resolve the issue and prevent a lockout and disruption of classes. The union followed five days later with its own version of why talks fell through. (See banner story “Faculty Union files notice of strike.”)

The previous CBA expired in 2011.

A deadlock occurs when the management and the labor union do not agree on certain proposals during CBA negotiations. It is a ground for filing a notice of strike.

“It is a stage in a collective bargaining agreement when neither party wants to move forward or would want to step backward,” labor law expert Samson Alcantara said in an interview.

The CBA, a contractual agreement between an employer and a labor union, covers wages, work load, working conditions, and responsibilities of both the management and employees. It is considered the law between the two parties.

After filing a notice of strike, a 30-day cooling off period follows, during which the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) will try to reconcile the two parties to avoid a strike or lockout, said Alcantara.

If the deadlock remains unresolved, the union has the right to go on strike. However, a declaration of strike must first be approved by a majority of the total number of union members through a secret ballot. A seven-day strike ban must be observed to allow both parties one last opportunity to resolve the labor dispute.

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The majority vote of board members of a company or association is likewise needed to approve a declaration of a lockout. A lockout occurs when an employer withholds work from employees; it is the employer’s counterpart of a strike.

“During a strike, the workers will not be liable for any damage [to the employer],” Alcantara said. “[But] if the strike is illegal, the workers will lose their employment.”

Repeat of the past?

In 1987, USTFU staged a protest-rally on the opening day of the school year for alleged unjust labor practices by the University, which stemmed from the latter’s refusal to distribute the unallocated amount of around P9 million which was due to faculty members from tuition hikes that began in 1984.

USTFU also claimed that the administration had treated as one and the same the faculty’s Christmas bonus and the mandated 13th month pay, which were supposed to be considered distinct from each other based on the 1985-1988 CBA.

According to the union, the Christmas bonus was deducted from the P35 million in economic benefits of the faculty, which it deemed as an “act of injustice.”

On July 9 of the same year, USTFU filed a notice of strike before the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) because of the University’s alleged violation of several provisions of the CBA, including a change in curriculum without prior consultation, reduction of teaching loads of faculty members, and the mandatory retirement of employees over the age of 65 despite an agreement to let professors teach if they were still capable.

The administration was also accused of delaying salaries and providing inefficient health services for faculty members, supposedly violating certain provisions of the Labor Code.

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The disagreement was not resolved, leading to a University-wide strike on Aug. 6, 1987.

As a result, DOLE immediately issued a compulsory arbitration memorandum ordering the employees on strike to report back to work and the administration to accept returning workers under the same terms and conditions prior to the strike.

Another strike was held in 1989, when negotiations for a new CBA ended in a deadlock. As a countermeasure, the University terminated the employment of 16 officers and directors of the USTFU including its president Eduardo Mariño Jr., for libelous and defamatory attacks against then rector Fr. Norberto Castillo, O.P. This move compelled some faculty members to stage mass leaves for several days that began on June 28 of the same year.

DOLE ordered UST to readmit the faculty members, prompting the University to appeal before the Supreme Court, which ultimately resolved the dispute in favor of the dismissed faculty members.

In 1990, the University and USTFU finally agreed on a compromise P5-million payment for back wages and other claims of the union, and another P2 million to satisfy the remaining obligations of UST under the 1985-1988 CBA. Michael Carlo C. Rodolfo and Andre Arnold T. Santiago

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