Talks won’t deter union proponents

by Jennifer Niemela

Although the Board of Regents and faculty groups might resume tenure negotiations, the drive for a union will go on.
“The faculty needs a legal voice,” said Tom Walsh, co-founder of the University Faculty Alliance. “The regents only listen to us as a collective bargaining unit.”
Last Friday, the regents received a letter from the American Association of University Professors and the Faculty Consultative Committee inviting them to ask the Bureau of Mediation Services to waive the cease-and-desist order that has kept the two groups from negotiating on tenure since October.
This gesture might appear to be the beginning of the end of the tenure controversy, which started last year when the board proposed tenure reform that was perceived to be a threat to the faculty’s academic freedom.
However, the resolution of the tenure issue wouldn’t mean the end of the faculty’s push toward collective bargaining.
Walsh said tenure was not the only issue driving faculty members to consider unionization. Other motivations include an announcement of changes to biweekly payroll for faculty, which some faculty members believe will cause 10 days’ salary to be left unpaid until retirement.
Walsh said his concern with this issue was the administration’s perceived unwillingness to discuss it with faculty.
“This is the administration’s idea of talking about changes,” he said, referring to the lack of dialogue between faculty and administration. “No meaningful discussion took place.”
Another issue of concern for the faculty is a new charge for members to access the University’s computer network from their homes.
Despite these continuing issues that divide the faculty and the administration, some faculty members feel that the movement toward collective bargaining has given them more strength in dealing with regents. The proposed tenure code, Sullivan II, is a combination of regents’ and faculty proposals.
“This is really a historic moment, when a grassroots effort by the faculty has succeeded,” said V. Rama Murthy, President of the Twin Cities chapter of the AAUP. “This is how collective action works, to support faculty governance.”
Josh Tilsen, the state mediator coordinating the union election, said the election will take place in February. The final date has not been set because the University’s attorneys and the faculty have been unable to agree on whether department heads should be able to vote in the election. The faculty wants them to vote, while the administration does not.
However, the University has abandoned its attempts to bar department directors from the vote, which should enable the faculty to move forward with the election. Walsh said this concession appears to be another victory of the faculty’s collective efforts.
“It was disappointing and frustrating when the University was stalling (the election),” he said. “I hope the faculty at large sees this as a success for collective bargaining.”