THE UST Faculty Union (USTFU) filed a notice of strike with the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) last Feb. 27 after negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the University administration ended in deadlock on Valentine’s Day.

The union, which represents 1,600 faculty members, accused the administration of negotiating in bad faith and failing to provide complete and audited financial statements needed during collective bargaining talks, despite repeated requests. The strike notice, signed by Dr. George Lim, USTFU president, also cited as basis the administration’s refusal to accept the union’s final proposal.

USTFU said union and administration negotiators met 34 times since March 2013 to try to hammer out a new five-year CBA, a contract that provides for wage hikes, benefits, work hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. The previous CBA expired in 2011.

Filing a notice of strike (by labor) or a notice of lockout (by management) usually follows a declaration of a bargaining deadlock. A deadlock occurs when negotiations between the management and the labor union fail to produce a final agreement.

Back-channel talks continue, however.

The dispute revolves around salaries, teaching loads, and faculty qualifications, as well as changes proposed by the administration to the system of promoting and reclassifying faculty members, including doubling the weight for research output and publications to improve UST's international standing.

Vice Rector for Academic Affairs Clarita Carillo, head of the administration’s negotiating panel, was the first to reveal the reasons for the deadlock, saying USTFU had “endless wants” such as two successive three-unit reductions in workload without pay cuts, which could lead to a 7-percent tuition increase.

“[T]he University has to balance the concerns of all stakeholders; it cannot readily increase its [tuition] for the sake of granting additional benefits to one sector: the faculty,” Carillo said in a memo to University officials dated Feb. 17.

"Undeniably, everything that management has so far proposed redounds to the quality standards the University needs to maintain in order to remain relevant and competitive as an institution of higher learning," she said.

Carillo said the administration was “pained” by USTFU’s refusal to continue negotiations. UST will pursue all legal remedies and make sure there will be no disruptions in classes and school activities, she said.

But Lim, head of the USTFU panel, said the administration’s offer was not enough considering the changes it wanted to implement. Lim fired off a letter to faculty members five days after Carillo’s memo, revealing that the administration asked union negotiators to agree to give up the right to strike. In exchange, the University will also waive its right to lock out faculty members. During a lockout, management refuses to allow its employees to work.

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"The right to strike is enshrined in the Constitution and the social teachings of the Church. Your Union would never give this up," Lim said in his letter dated Feb. 22.

Lim explained that USTFU’s proposal to reduce teaching loads without decreasing pay was only in response to the higher weight sought by the University administration for research output in the faculty promotion and reclassification scheme. This, he said, would also be a “win-win” solution ahead of the expected reduction in teaching loads in transition to the K to 12 scheme, which transferred general subjects to high school and would temporarily cut enrollment in the years 2016-2020 as a result of an additional two years of basic education.

Prior to the deadlock announcement, Lim said the USTFU panel sent the administration panel a final proposal, seeking the following:

•release of UST’s financial statements;

•three-unit reduction in the teaching load of the faculty members beginning academic year 2014-15 and another three-unit reduction within the next three years without any salary decrease;

•retirement pay at a rate based on 120 percent of a retiring faculty member’s monthly salary or the monthly salary at one rank higher at the time of retirement, for every year of service;

•automatic credential review for faculty members who acquire doctoral degrees or who publish in a local or international “ISI” journal without waiting for the next promotion year;

•retention of the 12.5 percent weight for research and creative works in evaluating faculty performance;

•full credit to a faculty member regardless of the number of co-authors in a published work;

•the creation of a joint UST-USTFU committee that will study a separate promotion/reclassification scheme for faculty members engaged in pure research or teaching;

•full implementation of study leave benefits for faculty members without a master’s degree as stated in the 2006-2011 CBA (Section 9, Article 16); and

•no diminution of pay rates for faculty members who will be assigned to teach in Grades 11 and 12 following the implementation of the government’s K to 12 program.

According to Lim’s statement, the administration countered with: a sendoff gift on top of the retirement pay; inclusion of the incentive pay in the retirement pay; and a “commitment to study the three-unit reduction.” Lim said the union panel found the additional offer “wanting,” leading to USTFU’s declaration of a deadlock.

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The administration earlier offered a P200,000 permanent disability benefit to be shared equally with USTFU , free vaccines, an express lane for faculty at the Health Service, an P80,000 loan for hospital expenses, tuition waiver for children for the remaining academic year in case of death of a faculty member, and a P15,000 "goodwill bonus."

Lim argued that UST could afford to reduce teaching loads to allow faculty members to do research, pointing to financial reports that USTFU had to get directly from the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“Management’s contention that the cost of this reduction would lead to an unconscionable increase in tuition fee is likewise untenable. We believe that there are other larger sources of funding for this, without having to burden our students,” he said, citing the University’s net income after tax of P772 million in 2010-2011, P1 billion in 2011-2012, and P987 million in 2012-2013.

Carillo, in her Feb. 17 memo, claimed that the parties had agreed on 85 percent of the provisions. "Management acknowledges that some of the pending issues might be difficult for some affected faculty members to accept. Management has thus repeatedly sought the understanding and cooperation of its counterpart in order to promote the interests of the University and all its stakeholders such as students, alumni, and the general faculty," she said.

"Alas, [the University] can only hope that teaching will again be valued for the pursuit of scholarship, for the nobility of that profession, for the practice of vocation whose inspiration is to participate in the mission started by the Greatest Teacher that ever lived."

Carillo also said the union panel rejected the University’s proposal to consider the academic qualifications of a tenured faculty member as a primary factor in the distribution of teaching loads. The administration, she added, wanted to take into account academic preparation, competence evaluation, academic rank, and years of service, but USTFU insisted on retaining seniority as the primary basis for teaching assignments.

Moreover, USTFU rejected the administration’s proposal to add levels to academic ranks, she said.

Lim, in his Feb. 22 letter, argued that a higher educational attainment would not ensure quality instruction. “[A] problem arises when a senior faculty member has to give up a course he has been teaching well for many years to a much junior faculty member. [D]oes a Ph.D. degree guarantee a better teacher?” he said.

The union may proceed with the strike if the impasse remains unresolved following a 30-day cooling-off period after filing the notice. During the period, the NCMB, an agency under of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) handling the arbitration of labor disputes, can intervene and mediate a settlement between UST and the union. Majority of union members must approve the strike through secret balloting, which should be submitted to the NCMB seven days before the intended start of the strike.

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The seven-day strike ban will allow both sides one last chance to resolve the dispute. By law, however, the DOLE secretary can avert a strike on the basis of national interest, forcing both sides to go through compulsory arbitration.

The first hearing at the NCMB was held last Feb. 27. Meanwhile, around 100 faculty members prayed at the Rosarium while holding tarpaulins stating “Our faculty members deserve better,” and demanding “accountability, transparency, and fairness.”

Concerned faculty

A College of Science professor called on USTFU to focus on the main goal of the CBA negotiations and on the administration to remember that teachers are essential partners in the University.

Emmanuel Domingo’s Jan. 17 letter to the Office of the Rector, USTFU, and Office for Academic Affairs, among other offices, said the faculty members’ share from tuition increases had been long overdue.

“At this juncture, what we are just requesting is the minimum requirement of justice as provided by law, that is, to give us what we already worked for so that we can use it to augment our insufficient salaries,” said the letter, which, Domingo clarified, was personal and non-partisan.

The law requires 70 percent of tuition hikes to go to salaries of teaching and non-teaching personnel and 20 percent to maintenance of facilities. The remaining 10 percent will be the school’s return on investment.

In an interview, Domingo said he was opposed to a strike. “The best solution, for me, is to go back to the table and let them come to a meeting of minds. Let's speak as professionals, as Christians, and as partners serving the same institution,” he said.

Unlike USTFU, the Samahang Manggagawa ng UST, composed of non-academic employees, ratified its 2011-2016 CBA with the management last August. The new CBA for support staff granted an across-the-board P500 monthly salary increase from June 2011 to May 2012 and a percentage increase in basic salary from June 2012 to May 2013 and June 2013 to May 2014.

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