Union drive may not stop for years

by Jennifer Niemela

If the faculty does not vote in favor of a union in February, they can expect another union drive in a few years.
The current unionization attempt is the third in two decades. The first two attempts, in 1978 and 1981, were unsuccessful. And if this drive fails, many faculty feel they’ll be faced with a union election again in the near future.
“We must be prepared for the next time around,” said Professor Bob Sonkowsky, co-founder of the University Faculty Alliance, a group of teachers which support unionization.
The faculty union drive gained steam last fall in the wake of proposed tenure reforms by the Board of Regents that faculty members felt would threaten their academic freedom. University faculty, excluding the Law School and Morris, will vote on whether to unionize in February.
Morris and the Law School already voted to abstain from the unionization process in November.
The issue that keeps faculty coming back to the voting box is faculty tenure reform. History Professor Hyman Berman was at the University during the 1970’s when faculty began their first union drive.
“The administration wants to run the U like a business, be more efficient,” he said. “Tenure is not efficient.”
In the 1978 election, 59 percent of faculty voted against unionization. One reason for the failure of past union drives is the sentiment that unions are inappropriate for academic settings.
Sonkowsky said he “may have had some unexamined prejudices” against unionization during the 1978 and 1981 drives that caused him to vote against unionization. Many faculty might have an “irrational opposition to unions of any kind,” he said.
However, Sonkowsky said he changed his mind about the importance of faculty unionization when he began to feel that the faculty had no voice in regents’ policy decisions.
“The faculty needs an independent source of power,” he said.
In recent months the regents have appeared to become more conciliatory toward faculty demands for less radical tenure reform. The tenure code, known as Sullivan II, that the regents passed for Morris and the Law School combines faculty and regent proposals. However, Sonkowsky said the faculty should be wary when deciphering the regents’ motives behind this move.
“(Sullivan II) is only a tactical move,” Sonkowsky said. “It’s being presented as a way to get around the present impasse of tenure. We must prepare for the tenure issue to come up again.”
Regents Chairman Tom Reagan said he can’t comment on these allegations because of a cease-and-desist order placed on tenure negotiations by the Bureau of Mediation Services in October. He did say he felt the regents and faculty groups were on their way to a compromise before the labor freeze, which is designed to protect the union election from interference by the board.
Sonkowsky said he thinks the faculty will vote to unionize in February even if the tenure issue appears to get resolved. But Berman isn’t as optimistic about the future of collective bargaining. He said a compromise on the tenure issue between the regents and faculty “could be the end of the union drive.”
Sonkowsky said the faculty will most definitely have to revisit the option of unionization in the next few years if they don’t elect a union in February. The stalling tactic of Sullivan II shows that, he said.
“We’ve been directly warned,” he said. “We need to see the handwriting on the wall.”