Union push continues on campus

Northrop Auditorium was the site of a rally last week to unionize all faculty members.

Benjamin Farniok

A push to unionize all faculty members at the University of Minnesota geared up as faculty members, students and alumni rallied outside Northrop Auditorium on Thursday.
 
The event was part of the effort to bring faculty members together into one labor union, called University of Minnesota Academics United. The group is aiming for better contracts for adjunct faculty and more say in governing the University. 
 
The group has other goals that aren’t directly related to faculty issues, including lowering student tuition and making the University operate less like a business.
 
Later this year, faculty members could potentially vote on whether to form a union. The last time the idea was voted on in 1997, faculty members decided not to unionize.
Erin Trapp, senior lecturer for the cultural studies and comparative literature department, said the group shifted its focus from an adjunct faculty movement to a more unified approach earlier this year.
 
“Our roles are changing, but the University isn’t supporting us,” said Marta Shore, a School of Statistics teaching specialist. 
 
Shore said class sizes have increased over the last 10 years, which makes it difficult to provide students with one-on-one instruction.
 
The rally’s organizers had passersby sign a petition in support of faculty unions and cast votes for what the union’s highest priority should be. Lower tuition received the most votes, followed by increasing wages for contingent faculty and better access to child care for University employees. 
 
Naomi Scheman, a professor in the philosophy department, said she thinks the University’s culture makes it difficult to challenge students properly because they are being treated like customers.
 
“It’s like we are trying to sell them to the corporate world,” Scheman said.
 
She also said the University should not emphasize four-year graduation rates because it constrains students.
 
The faculty group wants more tenure-track positions available, Scheman said, because the University increasingly uses adjuncts.
 
Event organizers estimated as many as 500 people attended the rally. 
 
Jenny Schmid, an associate professor in the art department, said unionization would help everyone at the University. She added that it could make faculty members more committed to improving the school and allow students to accomplish more by giving faculty members a larger say. 
 
The group has been working with the AFSCME Local 3937 and Teamsters Local 320, unions that represent some University staff and are currently involved in a collective bargaining campaign with the University to negotiate better pay, parental leave and staff  shortages.