Supreme Court favors UA in union salary dispute

Posted: Monday, February 24, 2003

FAIRBANKS -- The Alaska Supreme Court has ruled that the University of Alaska is not obligated to give members of a teachers union the same pay raise that nonunion members received in 1996.

In a decision released Friday, justices reversed a Superior Court ruling that would have required the university to conduct a salary study for members of the Alaska Community Colleges' Federation of Teachers and grant raises according to the results.

The study would have used techniques of a 1996 analysis that resulted in salary increases of as much as 2.6 percent for many nonunion employees.

The earlier analysis was conducted after nonunion employees were removed from the group of teachers receiving a 3 percent annual pay raise because of what the UA Board of Regents cited as impending financial constraints.

The study determined that about 250 nonunion faculty were underpaid compared with their UA peers, and they were subsequently compensated.

After the study, the union filed a grievance claiming that union members who received the 3 percent annual hike should have been included in the study and received pay raises that resulted.

''They were after double raises,'' said Jim Johnsen, UA vice president for faculty and staff relations.

An arbitrator ruled that the university should have included the union members in the study. Anchorage Superior Court Judge John Reese agreed.

The Supreme Court reversed the judge's decision, citing a faulty interpretation of the union contract by the arbitrator.

If the ruling had gone the other way, about $500,000 plus interest accumulated since 1996 would have been divided among union members whom a study determined were underpaid, said Bob Congdon, president of ACCFT, which represents about 300 community college-type faculty such as teachers at Tanana Valley Campus in Fairbanks and rural campuses.

Johnsen said an opposite conclusion would have cost the university far more.

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