Union effort unites faculty organizations

by Brian Bakst

Jim Martyka

In an indication of strengthening unity among University faculty members, a prominent faculty organization said Thursday it would support the University Faculty Alliance in its effort to unionize.
The American Association of University Professors declared its support of the alliance to more than 100 faculty members at an open forum in the Mayo Auditorium. The forum also included a discussion of the procedures the Academic Health Center needs to take to be included in a possible union election.
Currently, the health center and law school are considered separate from the rest of the Twin Cities campus faculty in unionization matters.
The AAUP’s decision to support the alliance clarifies which group will lead the faculty drive to unionize.
“When the ballot comes out, many faculty are committed that there will be one bargaining unit on the ballot, and only one,” said Professor of Lab Medicine and Pathology Carol Wells, AAUP and University Faculty Alliance member.
In previous union elections at the University, multiple bargaining agents on the ballot have split the vote, defeating the effort to unionize.
“If this is what we need to do, then we need to do it together,” said Professor V. Rama Murthy, president of the AAUP Twin Cities chapter.
A resolution documenting the AAUP’s support of the Alliance was passed Wednesday in their chapter meeting. Murthy added that the chapter will meet Monday with national members of the organization to update them on recent developments.
Physics professor Tom Walsh, co-coordinator of the University Faculty Alliance, said discussions had been going on between the two groups for some time.
“It holds up the prospect that we’re going into a collective bargaining election united,” Walsh said.
The current drive for unionization grew rapidly following the Board of Regents’ release of proposed controversial tenure revisions. Provisions that would allow administrators to lay off faculty and a clause which requires faculty members to maintain a proper attitude are at the center of contention as regents strive to reform the code.
To force a vote among health faculty on whether they want to rejoin the rest of the campus in case of a union election, 30 percent of the health center faculty must submit union cards.
Fliers encouraging participants to sign union cards were made available at the forum.
Professor of Law Fred Morrison answered questions on how members of the health center could petition for unionization. Health center faculty have until Nov. 1 to file for inclusion, Morrison said.
While the exact number of signature cards is uncertain, some faculty members have indicated they believe the health center is nearing the necessary 30 percent.
“I was very surprised at the percentage of persons signing union cards as they walked in the door,” Wells said.
Wells added most of the 125 buttons the alliance made up to show union support were also gone after the forum concluded.
Universities nationwide are awaiting the outcome of the University’s tenure reform. If faculty members vote to unionize, the University would be the first top research university to do so.
“We are on the cutting edge on the attacks on tenure,” Wells said. “If we can get through this, maybe we can prevent someone else from going through it.”