An outside law firm has billed University of Oregon over $320,000 to handle first-time contract bargaining with United Academics of the University of Oregon, the university’s new faculty union. The negotiations have been under way less than five months. The firm — Harrang Long Gary Rudnick P.C. — is the same one that the university hired to stymie the union’s organizing drive last year, until Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber intervened to put the kibosh on further use of public money to fight unionization.
Details of the university’s legal bills are the fruit of a relentless public records fight by University of Oregon economics professor Bill Harbaugh, who writes the blog UO Matters and serves as an economic consultant to the union bargaining team. In a counter-blog, the university administration disputes Harbaugh’s tally, saying as of late April that the Harrang firm had only billed the university $266,245.
By Harbaugh’s reckoning, four-fifths of the firm’s billings are for hours worked by Sharon Rudnick, a partner in the firm, who charges the public university $305 an hour. But also at the trough is retired UO president and law school dean Dave Frohnmayer. Frohnmayer now works for the Harrang firm, where he charges $275 an hour (a “discount” on his official rate of $550 an hour) to advise the university in labor negotiations — at the same time that he collects a $100,500 salary for part-time work teaching several courses at the university. And that’s on top of the more than $250,000 a year that Frohnmayer collects in Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) benefits. Frohnmayer, a former Republican state representative and state attorney general, is the public pension system’s fifth highest individual recipient.
The university pays the Harrang law firm to lead bargaining despite the fact that it has its own in-house attorneys and human resources administrators.
United Academics of the University of Oregon — which is affiliated jointly with American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and American Association of University Professors — says UO faculty salaries are at the very bottom of a peer group of 62 leading research universities. In bargaining, the union is seeking annual raises of 3.5 percent. The administration’s counter-offer is 1.5 percent.
Harbaugh, who “live blogs” the union bargaining sessions, said the university has stonewalled and delayed responding to his public records requests, and charged him $300 for copies of the most recent Harrang invoices, which were heavily redacted.
“One of the strangest parts of this,” Harbaugh told the Labor Press, “is that not only is the university administration paying the lawyers to do the negotiating, but because my blog makes the lawyers look bad, the lawyers are now paying consultants to try to make the lawyers look good.”
“Now they’re trying to charge me — I’m not making this up — $293 just to see the full names of the consultants that the university is paying.”
State representative Michael Dembrow (D-Portland), who’s also a longtime leader within AFT, says that in his experience, for employers to spend money opposing efforts to unionize is poison to the relationship, and makes it that much more difficult to negotiate a first contract. A bill sponsored by Dembrow in the current legislative session would bar public entities from spending money opposing unions during the organizing phase, though not during negotiations. The bill, HB 3342, passed the House and is pending in the Oregon Senate.
If anything, the Legislature appears poised to give the university even more autonomy this year: Senate Bill 270 would give University of Oregon (and Portland State University) their own boards, independent of the Oregon State Board of Higher Education.