Faculty unionization push in standstill

Both sides must wait on BMS to review legal briefs before a vote.

Olivia Johnson

Although there has been a clear push for faculty unionization on campus, the decision is at a standstill and has been for over two months.

A vote for faculty unionization could take place at any time in the coming months — awaiting a confirmation from an outside group, said Kathy Brown, Vice President for the University’s Office of Human Resources.

The process started on Jan. 20 when Service Employees International Union filed for Unit 8 representation with the Bureau of Mediation Service, Brown said.

“That’s the state agency that was responsible for administering a public bargaining in the state of Minnesota,” Brown said. “The name of the law that applies is the PELRA,”

The PELRA — Public Employee Labor Relations Act — has different units to classify types of workers and was first implemented twenty years ago, she said.

“Unit 8 is the Twin Cities faculty,” Brown said. “That is what SEIU filed to represent. Then subsequently, [the SEIU] wanted to add 10 professional and administrative classes that are in Unit 11 in the statute. We objected to that on the basis of the law.”

Though the University objected, Brown said the Buereau of Mediation Services will have the final say in whether the ten classes should be included.

In late April BMS ordered a hearing with more thanover 30 witnesses and thousands of pages of documents, Brown said.

On July 1 each party filed briefs with the BMS to summarize their positions, she said, and they have yet to make a decision.

“We’ve been waiting a little over two months for that decision,” she said.

For now, both parties are stuck waiting and the University will maintain their labor and employment policies.

“The only thing that can happen during this time is encourage interested parties to learn as much as they can, to look at pros and cons and to consider how they might want to vote when an election occurs,” Brown said.

Patti Dion, director of employee and labor relations at the University, oversees employee policy and works with other unions to form contracts, resolve conflicts and work with labor management.

“There is certainly communication that the union has sent to employees,” she said. “Much of it is related to the process at this point … a strong message from our office is that we want people to consider all the issues carefully.”

Jason Stahl, an Organizational Leadership, Policy and Development lecturer, has been involved with SEIU for two years, but said his participation has increased with the movement for faculty unionization at the University.

“I’ve been thinking we’ve needed a union here for a long time,” Stahl said. “I’ve seen a steady erosion in faculty power.”

As they wait on a decision, he said SEIU is focusing on educating students, organizing faculty and ensuring that support stays strong.

“We should have this broad community of instructors,” Stahl said, adding that there are hundreds of faculty classified as lecturers or adjunct instructors that are not tenured or unionized.

John Budd, a professor in the Carlson School of Management, studies labor relations and policy. He said faculty members want to unionize because of frustrations with faculty governance, lack of resources in certain departments or low pay and low job security at the University.

“The spark that brought this to life was SEIU’s organizing drives among a variety of low-paid workers in the Twin Cities and nationally,” Budd said.

The University wants to avoid unionization because it could result in a loss of their authority to set wages and terms of conditions for employment, he said.

Budd said if more legal challenges don’t delay the process, he foresees the election taking place later this fall.