University faculty votes to authorize illegal strike

Members of the union that represents the academic faculty at the University of New Hampshire have voted to authorize a strike if talks do not improve between themselves and the administration. Professor Dale Barkey, president of the UNH chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said the union approved the cautionary move with 78 percent voting in favor.

Barkey said the strike authorization vote passed Tuesday by a nearly 4-to-1 margin. It was 194 votes in favor, and 55 in opposition.

It is illegal for public employees to strike in New Hampshire. Last week, Barkey acknowledged the move was more of a statement than a plan for a prolonged strike. UNH spokeswoman Kim Billings said the administration would seek a court order to stop any job interruption.

Last week, after the union asked members to grant the authority to strike, UNH President Mark Huddleston asked to reopen negotiations.

"I am aware that many of you are concerned about the continuing impasse in collective bargaining and its impact on our campus community," said Huddleston in a letter on Sept. 26. "I share your concern, and I encourage everyone involved to commit themselves to statements and actions that move us toward civil discussion and productive negotiation."

Barkey said last week that the vote would still take place, as a way to force the administration back to the table.

"That hasn't happened yet," said Barkey. "We're ready to go back. We received a message that they wanted to go back to the table, and I think that's the direction we are heading in, but there are some details to work out."

Barkey said the contract expired June 30, 2006, and the two sides have been in negotiations of one kind or another ever since, be it negotiations, mediation or five failed fact-finder reports.

He said the sticking points are compensation, salary and benefits.

"It's a combination," said Barkey last week. "They want to cut benefits substantially. The benefit cuts are very costly and tend to escalate over the years. And, the salary offered the first year would not even make up for inflation when you consider the benefit cuts."

Billings said the cost of health care is going up, as it is everywhere. She said the faculty is being asked to make a contribution, something not done in the past.

The AAUP-UNH has already rejected the fifth fact-finder recommendation. That means both sides are supposed to return to the bargaining table because it must be accepted by both sides.

Administrators are scheduled to vote on it Oct. 18.


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