BANGOR, Maine — The lengthy contract dispute between the University of Maine System and the union that represents about 1,200 full-time faculty across seven campuses could soon be coming to a close.
During a recent system board of trustees meeting in Farmington, officials announced they had reached a tentative agreement with the faculty bargaining unit, Associated Faculties of the Universities of Maine, or AFUM.
According to AFUM’s website, the tentative deal was ironed out on Nov. 15. and, if approved, would be active through June 2015. The AFUM Bargaining Council meets Dec. 7 to discuss the deal, and will follow that meeting with ratification balloting.
UMS spokeswoman Peggy Leonard said Tuesday morning that the system couldn’t divulge much about the contract, as it still hasn’t been ratified by the union. Trustees did authorize Chancellor James Page to sign the agreement, pending AFUM approval, according to Leonard.
“The package will emphasize control of benefit costs, rightsizing and reinvestment,” according to a UMS press release. “Costs associated with this agreement will not be borne by students or their families, but by reductions and efficiencies.”
AFUM representatives did not immediately reply to messages seeking comment Tuesday morning.
The previous contract expired on June 30, 2011. During negotiations, the groups operated under the terms of the previous contract.
Those talks and failed attempts to come to a deal sometimes sparked tensions during the past 28 months. In March, UMS filed a complaint with the Maine Labor Relations Board, claiming that faculty at several campuses were participating in “illegal work stoppages.”
That complaint stemmed from AFUM votes at some UMS campuses to switch to a “work-to-rule” arrangement in hopes that it would lead to a 4.5 percent cost-of-living raise. “Work-to-rule” means an employee works only to the terms and duties outlined in their contracts, cutting out any work that could be considered voluntary or extra.
In January, faculty representatives refused to participate in a meeting with UMS trustees, citing stalled, contentious contract negotiations.
Also during Monday’s board meeting, trustees received an update on the system’s enrollment for fall 2013 — which is down 2 percent from last year. Page, however, stressed some encouraging statistics that went along with that dip.
“Undergraduate headcount is up substantially at Maine’s flagship, the University of Maine in Orono — and that is not limited to UMaine — enrollment is up at the University of Maine at Fort Kent as well,” Page said in a news release. “In fact, three of our seven campuses are welcoming larger incoming classes this fall.”
The number of out-of-state students attending the system’s universities grew by 6.3 percent, but overall enrollment dropped, in part because of a 4.7 percent reduction in the number of graduate students signing up. The system attributes that drop to a “lagging economy” that is keeping away potential graduate students from other New England states.
Enrollment statistics also report a significant increase in the number of credit hours completed online — an 80 percent increase since 2009, including a 10 percent hike over last year.
The UMS trustees’ next meeting will be held Jan. 27 at UMS headquarters in Bangor.