Following a heated union election that resulted in a failed unionization attempt for graduate student workers, United Auto Workers is alleging the University of Minnesota committed unfair election practices that affected the outcome.
The union was voted down in late March by about 62 percent of graduate student employees who cast ballots. Of the 4,400 eligible workers, about 68 percent voted.
Richard Kaspari, attorney for the Graduate Student Workers United/UAW, filed the charge of unfair election practices with the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services last week. He said the University continuously characterized union speech in the workplace as harassment through a memo and a FAQ page, affecting the outcome of the union election.
If mediation services rules in favor of UAW, it could void the results of the election, Kaspari said.
The University has communicated through the online FAQ page on the University’s Office of Human Resources website that any organization or discussion of a union in the workplace is prohibited. In two letters to the GSWU/UAW last fall, Shelley Carthen Watson, an associate general counsel at the University, wrote that union organizers “may not solicit in University workplaces during work time.” The letter claimed that graduate student employees had “harassed” their peers.
The Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services put into effect a “maintenance of the status quo order” stating all wages, hours and existing conditions of employment cannot be changed, and threats or promises to change these conditions are also prohibited while the allegations are investigated.
The University’s Office of Human Resources sent an email to all graduate student employees on the Twin Cities and Duluth campuses Tuesday saying “the University cannot make changes to terms and conditions of employment, including pay increases, until the Maintenance of Status Quo order is lifted.”
But Kaspari disagreed, saying all planned pay increases or processes that would lead to a pay increase must go through, otherwise it’s a violation of the law.
“That’s complete baloney,” Kaspari said. “By making that announcement and by blaming it on the filing of the election challenge, the University’s just committing one more anti-union violation of the law.”
The status quo order states, “Wages, hours and all existing conditions of employment of the employees shall not be changed as of the date of this Order.” Mediation Services did not return a request to clarify.
Patti Dion, director of employee relations and compensation at the University, said the order was first imposed in January and lifted after the election on March 26. It was reinstated Tuesday.
The election results are on hold until the BMS investigation is complete, Dion said.
Graduate student employee Samia Ilias said she was annoyed when she heard GSWU/UAW had filed a charge against the University.
She created an online petition Wednesday afternoon asking organizers to drop the charges. It had accumulated 66 votes as of press time. She said organizers are just dragging out an election that failed by a large margin.
“With a solid majority of voters who voted against [forming a union], I feel like it really shows a lack of respect,” she said.