University of Minnesota wants state to reconsider union ruling

The University wants the state’s Bureau of Mediation Services to reassess its ruling which would allow both tenure and non-tenure faculty to form a union.

Raju Chaduvula

The University of Minnesota wants the state’s Bureau of Mediation Services to reconsider a ruling from September that grouped faculty such as lecturers and teaching specialists with tenured faculty in the same bargaining unit for a faculty union vote.

Last week, the University asked the bureau to reconsider its decision to allow contingent faculty to be included in a potential union with tenure-track faculty, saying the outcome “disturbs the core mission of the University of Minnesota.” The University also asked the BMS to delay further union proceedings and a vote on the unionization effort until the issues are resolved.

Faculty union supporters hoped to schedule a vote to unionize before the end of the semester.

The University alleges that the bureau misread state law, contradicted itself in its ruling and misread the University’s positions, among other errors the BMS made in the decision, according to request.

Before the ruling, non-tenure track faculty were included in the University’s professional and administrative unit — Unit 11 — while tenure-track faculty were classified as Unit 8, the University’s instructional unit.

“We believe the [non-tenure track faculty] employees have been mistakenly grouped with our faculty who are covered under the Tenure Code,” Vice President for Human Resources Kathryn Brown said in an emailed statement. “All employees make vital contributions to the University, but do so in different ways; this difference is reflected in the law, which places these groups in separate bargaining units.”

The two sides have clashed over the issue since March.

The University’s move was expected, said Mary Pogatshnik, a Spanish and Portuguese senior teaching specialist and member of Minnesota Academics United, which is spearheading the faculty unionization push. It also slows down the process to call a vote, she said.

“It’s completely disappointing that the University wants to spend more time and money fighting us, their own faculty,” Pogatshnik said.

John Budd, a professor of work and organizations in the University’s Carlson School of Management, said Unit 11 was created as a catchall group for any leftover professions not in other groups.

When the Minnesota Legislature created the units decades ago, there were not as many contingent faculty at the University as there are today, Budd said.

In its appeal to the BMS, the University argued that since its founding, its mission focused on research, teaching and service — and that faculty such as teaching specialists and lecturers don’t fulfill all three categories.

“Unit 8 stands for scholarship in the fullest sense: the sum of the very best of teaching, research and service. That need not — and should not — diminish the role of the dedicated lecturers, teaching specialists, and other professionals and administrators who look to Unit 11 for representation,” the University said in the filing. “[The University] must challenge a definition of Unit 8 that diminishes the value it places on tenure, overlooks its dedication to research, and undervalues its service to Minnesota and beyond.”

Pogatshnik, who said she conducts research, said the University is trying to say that only tenure and tenure-track faculty can do research. While contingent faculty might not get their name on the research, most of them are involved in some kind of research, she said.

“[It’s] not true that only tenure-track faculty fulfill the tripartite mission of the [University],” she said.

Budd said the University’s appeal is something that forces union organizers to focus on legal efforts rather than on building relationships and support for its goal of a successful vote.

If the University is unsuccessful, it can file an appeal with the Minnesota Court of Appeals. In an email, University spokesman Evan Lapiska said the University has not determined its next steps beyond the reconsideration request.