Professionals to vote on union

by Jennifer Niemela

A poster in Folwell Hall, with a picture of smiling, unionized musicians from the Minnesota Orchestra, sums up the challenges facing pro-union civil service professionals.
A caption superimposed over the orchestra reads, “Unions are for professionals, too,” and lists other professional organizations represented by collective bargaining.
Union advocates hope the poster will convince wary civil service professionals at the University that unions can benefit even the most highly educated civil service workers.
“It will be a close vote,” said union advocate Steve Philson. “A lot of these issues are self-evident to us, but … there’s a substantial group that needs convincing.”
Today, the state Bureau of Mediation Services will send ballots to the 2,200 professional workers asking them to vote either yes or no to union representation by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The pro-union professional workers, who began campaigning for a union three years ago, want legally binding contracts to govern salaries and working conditions, as well as more representation in policy decisions that affect them.
The Civil Service Committee, which currently represents professional workers to the Board of Regents and the University president, went on record in November opposing the union. Many professional workers say they feel they get adequate representation from the committee, which despite its consultative role has the power to appoint civil service workers to University Senate committees.
However, union advocates say the consultative authority of the committee isn’t enough.
“We’re a highly educated body of workers who have good intentions toward the U,” said Judy Rosenblatt, informational representative at the Immigration History Research Center. “But we won’t get recognized unless we’re organized.
As the professional civil service workers’ union campaign ends today, activists will look back on a drive marked by a struggle against stereotypes about unions.
“A lot of people think the union is run by a mafia guy smoking a cigar down in Miami,” said Phil Norcross, a senior editor of the Office of Research and Technology Transfer Administration. “They think it’s run by Jack Nicholson and Jimmy Hoffa. That’s bullshit. Anyone on AFSCME’s payroll works for us.”
Because professional workers often don’t spend their entire careers at the University, union advocates say it’s difficult to convince them to invest time and energy in a union.
“An awful lot of people think of themselves as temporary workers, like the U is a stopping point in their career, and it’s hard to interest them,” said Philson. “People don’t think of professionals as unionized, although we’re practically the only ones in the state who aren’t.”
But the workers already have a representative body, and many professionals feel the committee affords them adequate representation. They cite consultative meetings with the president, provosts and regents as successful parts of their shared governance policy.
“I personally wouldn’t want to be unionized,” said Maureen Brown, a committee member and Carlson School of Management professional worker. “I was a member of AFSCME at one time and I feel I’ve gotten better representation from the Civil Service Committee..”
Civil Service Committee Chairwoman Sue Carlson Weinberg said the professional workers would actually be losing the opportunity to influence policies that affect them by joining AFSCME because unionized workers aren’t represented by the committee and therefore can’t be appointed to University Senate committees.
“It seems that would be the greater loss,” Weinberg said.
But pro-union professionals say that the committee’s suggestions, which University officials are under no obligation to follow, don’t carry sufficient authority. “I don’t see that as a terribly big loss,” said Norcross. “And if it is a big loss, AFSCME will bring it up with the University.”