State tosses grad union supporters’ unfair election claims

The Bureau of Mediation Services said the University of Minnesota didn’t hinder union discussion with its prohibition of union talk in the workplace.

Minnesota’s Bureau of Mediation Services this week dismissed unfair election claims from graduate worker union supporters, citing a letter from supporters themselves.

After graduate student workers voted down the union in March, Graduate Student Workers United and United Auto Workers formally alleged that the University was unfair during the election by prohibiting discussion of the union in the workplace, which they said affected the outcome. The University communicated through the Office of Human Resource’s website and in letters from a lawyer that union talk in the workplace is prohibited. As required under the law, BMS stayed the results of the election until the ruling this week. Now the stay is lifted and the election results are in effect.

In May, union organizers and the University filed their arguments with BMS. The University maintained that it didn’t act unfairly and that the bureau should dismiss the petition.

In its ruling Tuesday, BMS pointed to a union letter to President Eric Kaler as evidence the University’s actions didn’t hinder discussion and debate about unionization. In the Jan. 17 letter, which seeks support to skip an election and jointly file for union certification, union supporters wrote graduate workers had had “thousands of conversations” that made up the “lively, inclusive decision-making process in the best tradition of American liberal democracy” about the need for unionization.

The letter proves that the “atmosphere for organizing” was fine when the policies in question were in effect, BMS ruled.

The election took place the week of March 19. BMS announced a week later that 62 percent of voters voted down the union. Those opposed said they see the University as more of a partner than an adversary. Union supporters, working with United Auto Workers, wanted bargaining rights for working conditions and pay.