Union dues raise concern with faculty

A potential faculty union could support political causes, spawning debate.

by Brian Edwards

Discussions on union dues have surfaced as University of Minnesota faculty members wait for the state to declare eligible members for the upcoming union vote.
Like any union, faculty members would have to pay union dues each month if they decided to unionize. Service Employees International Union Local 284, the union that would represent faculty, would require faculty members to pay either 2.1 percent of their salary or $75 dollars per month, whichever is lower. Experts say advocacy is a part of any union, but some worry their money will be used for causes they don’t support.
The exact amount of faculty members who would be eligible for the union hasn’t been decided, but if the union represented the 2,500 possible members it originally announced, it could collect up to $2.25 million in dues each year.
Union documents show dues would be broken down into three sections: 60 percent for representation, 33 percent  for advocacy and 7 percent  for general overhead.
Faculty would not pay dues until the union sets its first contract with the University.
Representation efforts would cover bargaining negotiations, enforcing contracts and helping new groups join the union.
“The bigger the bargaining unit, the more expenses you have because you are representing more people”, said John Budd, professor of work and organization in the Carlson School of Management.
A more controversial aspect of the dues is their use in advocating for union-wide or political causes.
The advocacy portion of the funds would help the group with nation and statewide legislative pushes, like a higher minimum wage.
Unions are barred from giving financial support to a political campaign, Budd said, but they are allowed to support causes.
A 1988 U.S. Supreme Court case ruled to allow unions to collect dues from non-union members who benefit from the union’s bargaining activities, but those funds can only be used for representation.
Some faculty members are concerned about political advocacy with union dues, said Joe Konstan, professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering.
Konstan said he has heard faculty members are worried their money will be used to support causes they don’t personally endorse.
Some faculty members are also worried the union would push for more state money for the University, Konstan said.
“Some individuals are concerned about more money flowing in,” he said. “[Some think] it maybe should go to K-12.”
Still, some faculty members think the advocacy efforts are one of the defining aspects of joining a union.
Michelle Lekas, senior lecturer in the Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature, said a union is a part of the cultural landscape and must interact with it. 
“A union is a type of de facto social agreement,” she said.  
Many people balk at union fees, Lekas said, but the amount each individual pays is relatively small.
Though union budgets can seem intimidating to some, she said, that total is actually reflective of the small contributions from each member.
“For some people it might feel easier not to deal with this,” she said. “But I think it would really benefit everyone.”