U appeal could delay union vote

The appeal challenges a claim that nontenured faculty may be part of decision to unionize.

Brian Edwards

The vote for a University of Minnesota faculty union could see large delays if the state agrees to hear a University appeal.
The school filed an appeal Tuesday challenging a state decision to hold hearings about the classification of nontenured faculty at the University. The Bureau of Mediation Services wanted to review the University’s claims that nontenured faculty are a part of a professional and administrative unit rather than the faculty unit.
If the Minnesota Court of Appeals decides to look at the University’s case, a ruling could further push back the date of a union vote, which already looked as though it would not happen this spring.
BMS planned to hold 16 hearings in late April and early May to decide on the classification of 10 different jobs, including senior lecturer and senior teaching specialist. 
The clash is the result of the University’s belief that BMS does not have the power to reassign employees from one bargaining unit to another.
The Service Employees International Union has mischaracterized why the University filed an appeal, said Patti Dion, director of employee relations in the Office of Human Resources, in an email statement.
The University believes that SEIU is violating the law because it is trying to bring professional and administrative employees into the faculty bargaining unit, she said in the statement. 
Under state law, nontenured faculty are considered part of the professional and administrative unit. 
“For reasons I have yet to figure out, the Legislature thought it was good to pre-specify bargaining units at the University,” said John Budd, a professor who specializes in labor studies in the department of work and organizations in the Carlson School of Management.
The University claimed that under state law, BMS can only assign employees to units if they were not previously assigned or if the scope of the job has changed significantly since classification.
“I think it’s an aggressive and obstructionist move,” Budd said.
Though it is common for employers to take action to delay a union vote, he said, the University’s appeal is unique.
The school is objecting to BMS conducting the mediation services that it was created to carry out, Budd said.
“Essentially, the University is trying to say their expertise is better than the experts’ expertise,” Budd said.
Meanwhile, there are two large benefits to the University objecting to the process, he said.
First, he said, the school hopes the ruling would set the bargaining unit to contain only the employees it wants. Second, it would delay a vote, which is beneficial to the University.
Anytime a vote is delayed, Budd said, it detracts from the momentum of a union push.
“The University supports the rights of employees in a bargaining unit to hold a timely union election,” Dion said in the statement. “We appealed not to delay an election but to make sure the composition of eligible voters for the election complied with the law.”
Faculty members who support the union say they feel the University is deliberately attempting to delay the vote.
Irene Duranczyk, an associate professor in the College of Education and Human Development, said the school’s actions do not match what was told to her and other employees.
“I was really surprised because the University was talking about having an election as soon as possible,” she said. “It seems to contradict what they said.”
She said a prolonged legal battle deflates the force and energy of the unionization campaign.
“I think it’s intentional,” Duranczyk said. “Maybe they think it will get them more time to draw anti-union support.”