Editorial: Non-tenured UMN faculty should continue pushing for unionization

Daily Editorial Board

The last 40 years have not been kind to pro-union organizers at the University of Minnesota.

Unionization has been unsuccessfully attempted four times by University staff in four separate decades. Upon filing for unionization in 2016, the Service Employees International Union looked to organize about 1,300 part-time and contingent teaching faculty with 1,800 tenure-track educators to negotiate wage and faculty rights; these means are not necessarily available for part-time and contingent faculty. While the last campaign in the late 90’s ended in a narrow rejection, some hope emerged when the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services ruled in favor of unionization in September. Soon after the decision, disputes concerning the faculty representation became far more prevalent. This Tuesday morning, the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled against the grouping of contingent and part-time faculty with tenure-track educators.

University pro-union organizers cite the need to increase job security for lower faculty. As per the SEIU’s personal campaign statement, “increasing investment in educators” is high priority. In contrast to tenured educators with definite job security, nontenured faculty receive few guarantees. Unionization would provide a negotiation platform for security, wages and increased rights. Union workers account for about 10 percent of the U.S. population, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the SEIU, with over 2 million members, accomplishes this for many Americans.

The argument against University faculty unionization includes diluting the quality of University faculty and generalizing faculty interests, union dues and the SEIU itself. Ambitious educators who are productive researchers are less likely to be in favor of faculty unions, according to a University of Washington study. More arguments being presented by opposition express concern about lumping faculty interests, paying membership dues without wage increase guarantees and the SEIU being a low wage union. 

The decision on Tuesday marked another failure to unite the two distinct groups of faculty, as was the opinion of the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The ruling against the grouping of tenured and adjunct faculty created another hurdle for faculty union supporters. As per the ruling, part-time and contingent faculty could not bargain with tenure-track faculty because the two groups are classified as different bargaining units under the Public Employment Labor Relations Act. They determined the BMS did not have the authority to change the bargaining units.

Bargaining rights created by a faculty union will not be utilized by part-time and contingent faculty at the University of Minnesota for the time being. We look forward to witnessing future union drives in Minnesota or any other changes. This ruling does not necessarily mean that part-time and contingent faculty will never assemble for the sake of negotiation and bargaining, or even unionize themselves. Hopefully a future push may bring about a positive change to University faculty policies and benefit not only the University faculty, but adjunct and non-tenured faculty members as well.