LEWISTON – Two unions representing faculty and support staff at the University of Maine System are accusing UMS of “unethical and illegal conduct” in a complaint filed with the Maine Labor Relations Board.

The complaint, filed last week, alleges that the university has used illegal tactics in its negotiations with unions and has acted in bad faith.

“Things are probably as bad now as they have ever been in negotiations,” wrote Jim Bradley, the president of ACSUM, in an e-mail to the Sun Journal. “Employee morale is at an all-time low and it’s clear that (the University of Maine System) Board of Trustees have little concern that so many of their employees are still working without contracts.”

The associated, clerical, office, laboratory and technical staff of the University of Maine System and the Associated Faculties of the University of Maine have been working without a contract since June 2005, when the last two-year deal expired. Four other bargaining units within the university system have reached agreement on new contracts.

The charges against the university system were outlined in an e-mail sent to union members last week.

The unions make two general arguments: The university has signed illegal contracts with other unions that include parity agreements and the university has engaged in surface bargaining.

Parity agreements, also called “me-too” clauses, were included in the contract of another union and guarantee that its membership receive any beneficial terms that other unions negotiate.

“The university has argued that it can’t settle with the two unions because it would have to go back and give other unions the same terms,” said Mark Gray, the executive director of the Maine Education Association, which is providing collective bargaining support to its affiliates, ACSUM and AFUM. “We think it’s unfair having that hanging over our union members.”

The second allegation is that the university system has engaged in surface bargaining or bargaining in bad faith.

“They’re really not seriously trying to reach an agreement. They’re just going through the motions,” Gray said.

Tracy Bigney, chief human resources officer for the university system, said that she had not seen the official complaint but was generally aware of its contents.

“We certainly have been bargaining in good faith with these unions,” Bigney said. “We have been working with these unions in trying to reach an agreement.”

Both Bigney and Gray said that negotiations between the university system and the unions would continue while the matter is before the Maine Labor Relations Board.

“It’s always possible that the parties could resolve the issues before the hearing,” Bigney said.

The university system has until Aug. 29 to respond to the Maine Labor Relations Board, said Marc Ayotte, the board’s executive director.

According to Gray, Maine law does not require unions and employers to reach agreement. It only requires that the two sides go through a process. The law also bars public unions from striking, so faculty and support staff will report for the fall semester as scheduled.

“It puts the unions in a predicament,” Gray said. “At some point an employer can just sit on their last proposal because they know there’s no way for the union to make them go any further.”

The hope, Gray said, is that the complaint will move the bargaining forward faster than it has been moving.

According to Ayotte, the MLRB can’t force a settlement, but there are a number of options, including putting the circumstances of the negotiations back to where they were before any violation of the law occurred.

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