Civil Service Committee should fix error

by Phil

What’ya know. Our bosses don’t want organized employees. The University of Minnesota Civil Service Committee put itself on record on Nov. 21 as formally and publicly opposed to unionization of the University’s professional employees. And in the January issue of Kiosk, it repeated its opposition.
Creating a labor union, said the Civil Service Committee, will deny professional employees the role we now play in University governance via our representatives on the Civil Service Committee. And the committee, because it will no longer represent all us union members, will lose power.
The committee is wrong.
Unionizing will not end professional employees’ roles in University governance; it will strengthen it. And professionals are not represented by the Civil Service Committee in this matter.
In the course of publicizing the committee’s resolution against unionizing, the committee’s chair, Susan Carlson Weinberg, reminded us that the University administration routinely consults the committee on such issues as changes in grievance policy, paycheck schedules and the University Hospital/Fairview merger. If professional employees create a union for themselves, she said, we will no longer enjoy that consultation.
Hooey! Not only will the University continue to consult with its professional employees when we all sit down to write the contract that specifies the terms of our work, but state law will require the University to consult with us.
And when the University fails to do so, the courts, or threat of going to court, will spur it to correct its error. That’s what happened when the University tried to delay our paychecks two weeks last fall without bothering to consult its 4,000 clerical and technical employees.
The employees that the Civil Service Committee would dissuade from organizing are some 2,100 “professional” employees of the University. Of the 20 members of the Civil Service Committee, four are professional employees eligible to join the union we are creating. The other 16 are supervisors of professional employees or “exempt” employees, and so ineligible by law to join the union we are creating.
In other words, when the Civil Service Committee opposes the organizing of professional employees, we are not hearing our representatives conduct legitimate politics; we are hearing bosses say they’d prefer their employees not to organize.
We should hardly be surprised. When the University’s professional employees create their union, we will gain power and our bosses on the Civil Service Committee will lose power. That, after all, is the purpose of unionizing — to redistribute power.
But we should also wonder if what the Civil Service Committee did was legal. Consider what Minnesota statute says about bosses telling public employees not to organize:
“Public employers, their agents and representatives are prohibited from: (1) interfering, restraining or coercing employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in sections 179A.01 to 179A.25; (2) dominating or interfering with the formation, existence or administration of any employee organization” (Minnesota Statutes 179A.13, Subd. 2).
Entitled “Public Employment Labor Relations,” 179A.01 through 179A.25 clearly states that public employees have the right to create unions for themselves.
Perhaps lawyers can twist that law into loopholes for the committee to hide in, but common sense and the spirit of the law are clear. On the question of its employees organizing, the Civil Service Committee should follow the lead of the rest of the University administration and remain publicly neutral.
The committee should retract its resolution opposing professional organization and should apologize for its error.
The authors are professional University employees.