Professional workers wrap up voting on union

by Jennifer Niemela

Today marks the last day of voting in the University professional workers’ union election, with ballots in the mail-in vote due at the state Bureau of Mediation Services by 4:30 this afternoon.
The ballots, which ask professionals if they want union representation by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, will be tabulated by the bureau on Wednesday. The ballots were mailed on April 14 to the 2,200 accountants, systems analysts, scientists and other non-manual University workers who would be represented by a potential union.
The vote will be decided by a simple majority of ballots returned. Supporters and opponents of unionization predict a close vote.
“We’re just holding our breath, waiting for Wednesday,” said Steve Philson, a senior scientist in the chemistry department, and union activist.
Professional workers can hand-deliver the ballots to the bureau’s offices before 4:30 if they haven’t mailed them already; they can also replace lost ballots and vote at the bureau. The office is located at 1380 Energy Lane in St. Paul.
Representatives from AFSCME and the University will be at the bureau on Wednesday at 1:00 p.m. to watch the counting of the ballots. The results of the election are expected by mid-afternoon Wednesday.
Union advocates are pushing for more employee input about issues of compensation and working conditions. Pro-union workers say they want collective bargaining because there is too little continuity between departments and units.
“Each manager runs things differently,” said Sheryl Weber-Paxton, a community program specialist for University Communications. “Some managers don’t give raises and some do.”
Some professional workers say they’re pushing for a union because they want more administrative accountability.
“We are frequently hired by administrators who don’t know how to appreciate our skills,” said Donna Weispfenning, a senior editor in the Office of Academic Affairs. “They need to … account for the capabilities professional workers can do for their offices.”
However, the professional workers are already represented, in a consultative role, by the Civil Service Committee. The committee is a Board of Regents-appointed body that makes recommendations to the board about changes in civil service policy. The regents are under no obligation to follow the recommendations. The committee went on record in November as opposing the union drive.
“I personally wouldn’t want to be unionized,” said committee member Maureen Brown. “I was a member of AFSCME at one time, and I feel I’ve gotten better representation from the Civil Service Committee.”
The committee cites consultative meetings with the president, provosts and regents in addition to the power to appoint civil service workers to University Senate positions as reasons they are an effective representative body.
“I don’t know of any bargaining units that have the same kind of meetings,” said committee chairwoman Sue Carlson Weinberg.
However, Weber-Paxton said the consultative role of the committee isn’t enough.
“(The committee members) try, but I think management controls what they do,” Weber-Paxton said. “In the seven years since I’ve been here, it doesn’t seem like anything has gotten done.”