The lack of a union at the University has allowed the administration to take unilateral decisions regarding pay and hours, which has drawn criticism by many union proponents.
In late September, the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS) ruled that contingent faculty — which includes teaching specialists and lecturers — could join the same union as tenure-track faculty. The University, however, claimed that contingent faculty members weren’t instructional staff — they were professional and administrative staff, but this claim was largely ignored by the Bureau.
The University has spent nearly $525,000 in legal fees fighting unionization and appealed the decision made by the BMS, but the agency upheld their original decision in late November — in effect, all faculty, regardless of whether they’re contingent or tenure-track, can be in included in a potential union at the University.
We think that the BMS’s decision is an important step forward. Faculty have the right to bargain for their pay. Individual faculty members don’t have bargaining power over the large legal staff of the University, thus a union would allow for a more robust and just platform for settling claims.
In addition, we hope a union would help increase pay for contingent faculty members. According to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), more than 50 percent of all faculty appointments are part-time, which disqualifies them for important benefits exclusive to full-time faculty.
In addition, the AAUP argues that part-time faculty members are constantly overworked and underpaid. Our University should not be in the businesses of undercutting a group of teachers that are imperative to the school’s mission of teaching.
A teacher’s unionization would also serve as a platform that could mitigate the adjunct faculty crisis that’s taking place on a national scale. According to a March 2015 survey by the Pacific Standard, a majority of adjuncts earned less than $20,000 a year. For many teachers, their salaries were below minimum wage.
Some would argue that non-tenure-track professors and faculty don’t get paid as much because the University is already short on funds. This argument is itself poor. The University of Minnesota pays $625,250 for President Kaler’s salary alone.
Our University should work to protect all faculty. This is in the best interest of students and ensures loyalty of faculty members. If faculty members are happy, they’ll teach better and be more satisfied with the administration.
The decision made by the BMS will hopefully provide enough precedence for decisions made in the futureand spur union efforts, which will make pay and benefits received by faculty more equitable.