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Strike ballots have been sent to the approximately 300 members of the Alaska Community College Federation of Teachers, the union representing some faculty members at the University of Alaska, including the Southeast campuses.
A majority yes vote authorizes union management to call a strike, although a strike wouldn't necessarily occur. The union said a strike would affect 16,000 students in 1,100 classes statewide.
The union has 35 to 40 members at the University of Alaska Southeast, including 18 in Juneau, said Juneau union representative Tim Powers, who is on the negotiating team. The members teach some freshman and sophomore classes and courses toward associate degrees and certificates.
University and union officials weren't certain how many UAS students would be affected by a strike.
UAS Provost Robbie Stell said she couldn't reveal details of what the university's plans are if there is a strike. But she said, "I'm sure all the academic managers are thinking about options. We certainly don't want to lose the semester for any of our students."
Ballots, sent out Friday, are due back Oct. 23, said Bob Congdon, union president.
"I think there will be overwhelming support," he said. "We hope that management will pay attention and try to protect the students from a strike by sitting down and negotiating a fair contract."
Powers agreed, saying that straw polls of union members in Southeast show strong support for a strike vote.
Bob Miller, a university spokesman, called the strike vote a "typical strong-arm tactic" by the union.
"The students should know we will do everything in our power to protect the students ... so classes will continue," he said.
The union and the university administration have been negotiating since September 2002, Congdon said. The contract expired in June, and bargaining teams have met several times with federal mediators. But the university and the union have been at an impasse since December, Miller said.
On Aug. 12, the university gave the union its "last, best offer," Miller said. The union responded with a counteroffer on Oct. 3.
"The university initiated a meeting with the union on Oct. 8 and made some settlement suggestions, all of which were rejected by the union," Miller said.
To say that the union and the university are simply far apart on contract specifics would not accurately convey the tone of the negotiations, Congdon said.
"What it is is recalcitrance and immaturity and pushiness on the part of university management as opposed to specific economic issues," he said. "If you look at their last, best offer, it is worse than their first offer a year ago."
Congdon said the university has said it is looking for a "management-friendly" contract.
"They basically want to have unchallenged decision-making authority," he said.
Health-care proposals are one example, he said.
"Either they will increase their contribution by 13 percent over three years, when we both agree health-care costs are going to increase 45 percent over three years, or we can agree to let them make all future ... decisions about the type of health insurance."
Health care and retirement costs are rising, Miller said, although he would not discuss specifics of the negotiations.
"It has never been the university's position to continue the negotiations in the press," he said.
Several important issues remain on the table, Miller said.
"That's why we will continue to negotiate in good faith," he said.
The university plans to give the union a final offer at the end of this month and continue negotiations from there.
Congdon said the union hopes that the strike vote will encourage the university to work toward a contract, but he hopes to avoid a strike.
"We think a strike would be devastatingly terrible. Students would be hurt," Congdon said.