Faculty files to unionize

Faculty members tried to create a union in 1997, but the measure fell 26 votes short.

by Brian Edwards

Faculty members at the University of Minnesota are expected to file to form a union Wednesday, taking action on long-running discussions dating back to 2014.
The filing would kick-start conversations between University administrators, faculty and the state about who is eligible to join the union, and could culminate in an election if enough qualified faculty support the move. 
Though tenured and non-tenured faculty needs vary widely, instructors say the decision to file for union status with Service Employees Union Local 284 unites the groups to reverse waning support for teaching on campus.
“[Currently] faculty governance is consultative,” said Teri Caraway, a political science professor in the University’s College of Liberal Arts and a union advocate. “We discuss things with the administration, and they can decide whether or not to take those concerns seriously.”
Now that the group has filed for the creation of a union, Minnesota’s Bureau of Mediation Services will determine which staff members at the University could be eligible to join, a process expected to take three months.
After the BMS has set parameters for qualified faculty voters, an election could be held if 30 percent of faculty support a union. A majority vote is required to approve unionization.
Faculty members attempted to form a union in 1997, but fell 26 votes short.
The ability for the faculty to bargain and create a contract with the University would provide better guidelines for the school to abide by, Caraway said.
Many tenured faculty members are continually asked to take on more responsibilities, she said, even though the number of tenured faculty and financial support for students has decreased.
State funding for full-time students has gone down 45 percent since 2001 to about $6,500 per student, according to left-leaning think tank Demos.
Non-tenured faculty would also benefit greatly from the security of a union, said Michelle Lekas, a senior lecturer in cultural studies and comparative literature in CLA.
When a non-tenured teacher doesn’t have long-term job security, she said it affects their teaching and interactions with students.
Lekas said a student may be hesitant to work outside of the classroom with a faculty member who could lose their position without much notice.
Though she said her department has been extremely supportive of non-tenured faculty, decisions about retaining faculty often come from administrators outside of a teacher’s department.
“In this case, the main controversy is why the University would be against this,” Lekas said. “It’s better for everyone.”
If approved, the union would be one of the largest on a single campus, representing more than 2,500 faculty members.