Professional workers soundly reject unionization

Jennifer Niemela

Union advocates saw their four-year campaign for collective bargaining for University professional workers routed Wednesday.
By a count of 651 to 932, professional workers voted not to join Council 6 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees as a collective bargaining unit.
As they did after faculty members rejected unionization in February, University officials pledged support for the concerns that led many to seek a union.
“These are valued employees of the University,” University President Nils Hasselmo said in a press release after the election results were announced. “Clearly, there will be many issues of concern to many of them. We need to address these issues as soon as possible.”
The ballots were counted Wednesday at the state Bureau of Mediation Services, with University officials, AFSCME officials and pro-union professionals on hand.
The bureau received 1,583 valid ballots out of 2,142 eligible voters. The election began on April 14 when the bureau mailed the ballots to the employees. Professional workers include: systems analysts, accountants, scientists and other non-manual, non-clerical employees.
“This clearly indicates that the professionals are not ready to have representation,” said User Services Specialist and union activist Bruce Piepho.
The campaign for a union began in June 1993 when some professionals began pushing for legally binding employment contracts with the University because, they claimed, the current system of raises and the quality of working conditions is arbitrary.
Union activists blamed the loss on a belief that it is inappropriate for professionals to be unionized.
“We heard a lot of that in the campaign,” said user services specialist and union activist Shahnaz Coyer. “We’re not community-oriented. We’re still part of the culture of me: ‘I can take care of myself.’ That’s sad.”
Union advocates have said the consultative body that currently represents them, the Civil Service Committee, doesn’t have enough clout to force real change in terms of employment. The committee went on record in November as opposing union representation for their constituencies.
“They make no significant difference in the power structure at the University,” said Piepho.
But some committee members, who were happy with the outcome of the election, said the vote confirms that their shared governance system is effective for the professional workers.
“I’m glad there was a significant number of professionals who thought the consultative (role) the civil service employees play in University governance is more important than any benefits they could achieve through collective bargaining,” said committee chairwoman Sue Carlson Weinberg.
Committee member Don Cavalier said the union drive will help the committee understand the concerns of the professional workers.
“It’ll help us be more cognizant of their needs,” he said. “We plan to let them know exactly what we’re doing. This confirms our belief that we can be involved in (policy changes) at the U.”
Director of Employee Relations John Erickson said his office will be addressing such issues as pay increases and working conditions.
“Our compensation division will work with the Civil Service Committee on salary plans,” he said. “The committee has some power.” Erickson said the committee can have a say in improving working conditions for professional workers.
The vote was mail-in only, unlike the faculty vote in February, for logistical reasons, bureau officials said. They cited professional workers’ widely scattered workplaces and varied hours as barriers to using traditional polling places.