Professional workers will vote on union

Jennifer Niemela

A state office will begin sending union election ballots to University professional workers on Monday, kicking off a three-week mail-in election.
The ballot will ask professional workers if they want the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to represent them in collective bargaining. The Bureau of Mediation Services must receive the ballots by Tuesday, May 6; the votes will be counted on May 7.
Professional workers, who number about 2,200 at the University, include accountants, computer programmers, scientific assistants and other non-manual workers. The professionals have been pushing for a union for three years. Union activists are driving for salaries equaling those of other state employees. For example, a University senior systems analyst starts at about $31,600 a year while a state programmer analyst starts at about $39,500, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Resources.
“There are a lot of people for whom (salary) is the key issue,” said Phil Norcross, senior editor in the Office of Research and Technology Transfer Administration.
Professionals also want more representation in administrative decisions, which they say are sometimes made in an arbitrary manner. The Board of Regents-appointed civil service committee, which has only advisory powers, isn’t enough, said Bruce Piepho, senior user services specialist.
“The committee does represent us, but … most people wouldn’t even bother filing a grievance” with the committee, he said. “If we had a union, we would have the right to take a grievance all the way to arbitration.”
Union activists say AFSCME representation would give them the influence they believe they deserve in decisions that affect their working conditions.
“We need to have more say in how the University is managed,” said Maria Klien, editor of the Landscape Arboretum’s newsletter. “We need a more democratic structure.”
The civil service committee, however, went on record in January as not supporting the union drive, largely because a union would make its job obsolete, said former committee member Anne Mockovac.
“If we believe in a shared governance structure, why would the committee support the union?” said Mockovac, who resigned from the committee on Friday for undisclosed reasons. “We might as well have voted never to meet again. (The decision) wasn’t philosophical … How could we approve a process that negates our role?”
While some union activists are content with their particular situation, they are organizing because they are aware of colleagues who are unhappy.
“Like I tell my boss, I’d organize if I was working for St. Peter himself,” said Norcross. “My organizing helps workers everywhere.”
Mail ballots are standard for situations like this one, where employees who work different shifts make an on-campus election impossible, BMS officials said. The bureau decided on Friday that employees will receive a ballot and a stamped envelope addressed to the bureau. The ballots must be returned in the official envelopes for counting purposes.
University professionals are one of two groups of state-employed professional workers not currently unionized in Minnesota. The other group is employed by the Minnesota Historical Society.