Faculty opposed to forming a union at the U of M - Twin Cities campus have made a number of claims in their arguments that do not stand up to close scrutiny. Today, we are addressing claims about union dues and about the effects of faculty unions on salaries and our ability to compensate and retain top talent.
First, some facts about union dues:
No one will pay dues until a collective bargaining agreement is ratified by the full membership and goes into effect. If we are dissatisfied with the terms of a tentative agreement reached between our union bargaining committee and the University’s central administration, we alone have the power to ratify or reject that agreement. Unless and until members ratify a contract, no one pays dues.
Once a contract is ratified, faculty who choose to become members of SEIU Local 284 will pay $75 or 2.1% of our gross salaries per month ﹘ whichever is lower ﹘ and only for the months we are contracted to work. That rate was set by the members of SEIU Local 284, and any future changes must be approved by a vote of the union’s membership.
Faculty who choose not to become members of the union will pay a fair share fee equal to 85% of the regular membership dues, in accordance with state law, to cover the cost of representation. SEIU Local 284 will have a legal obligation to represent everyone in the bargaining unit regardless of whether or not they choose to be members of the union.
Our union dues will pay for the cost of negotiations, representation, and enforcement of our contract through a paid staff who will work for and be accountable to us, the faculty. SEIU has a separate, voluntary political fund to pay for federal political contributions.
Regarding salaries, the evidence from survey studies across American higher education is mixed and context-dependent about whether unions consistently negotiate higher salary increases than faculty would otherwise receive. Some studies have found a significant union premium while others have not.
One critical factor to consider is fringe benefits: salary-only studies do not take into account other benefits with monetary value. A study published earlier this year found that amongst large urban public regional universities, faculty with collective bargaining (unions) earned an average of $21,043 more than those without collective bargaining when fringe benefits are taken into account. Research institutions (and other universities) with faculty unions have significantly better policies than we do in areas such as parental leave, sabbaticals, and tuition remission:
The U of M - TC currently provides no teaching relief during parental leave, and provides a more limited duration of paid leave than some universities with faculty unions, which also grant teaching relief. For example, at the University of Cincinnati, contract language (Article 19.5) treats biological parents and adoptive parents the same, and all faculty are eligible for release from teaching duties for the academic semester. At UMass Amherst (MSP Agreement, Article 27.14), all faculty are eligible for a full semester of 100% paid parental leave after three years of service. In our own U of M system, the Duluth faculty union contract (line 604.200) provides for a full semester with pay for birth-giving mothers and 4 weeks with pay for fathers.
The U of M’s sabbatical program provides significantly lower pay than some other public research universities with faculty unions. (Single semester leaves and income augmentation are awarded on a competitive basis and are therefore not made available to many faculty.) Faculty at the University of Cincinnati (Article 25) may take a full year of leave at half pay or one semester at full pay after 6 years of service. The California State University System faculty union contract provides for the same benefit. At Rutgers, faculty are eligible for a one semester leave at 80% salary after every three years of service, and either a one semester leave at 100% salary or a two semester leave at 80% salary after every six years of service. (Asst. Professors may take one semester at 100% salary after three years of service).
The U of M - TC currently offers faculty no tuition remission benefit for spouses, partners, or children, and only a partial benefit to faculty ourselves. This is a standard fringe benefit for faculty at numerous other public universities with union contracts. The California State system and the University of Cincinnati each provide for up to 6 credits per semester tuition-free to spouses, partners, and children; UMass Amherst (tuition-free), the University of Oregon (70% discount), and Rutgers (50% discount or free; children only) all have no credit limit. Moreover, the U of M Regents Scholarship Program, which — like many unionized campuses — once granted free tuition to all employees (including faculty), now offers only a 75% tuition discount in most cases.
Faculty bargaining teams often choose to prioritize fringe benefits such as these over larger salary increases in contract negotiations -- a choice that would be open to us as well. Moreover, if the University’s central administration continues to chip away at employee benefits in years to come, we will be far better equipped to stop such changes through collective bargaining.
Another key factor that contributes to the mixed picture of salary studies is tenure: faculty unions tend to limit the growth of lower-paying non-tenure-track positions and increase new tenure-track hires, which may result in fewer lower-paying positions and thus give an artificial impression of wage compression.
Salary studies across all ranks of faculty also obscure significant benefits for specific groups. For example, there is evidence that faculty unions at public research universities help close racial and gender gaps in compensation and promotion. There is also strong evidence that faculty unions result in significantly higher salaries for contingent faculty, as well as higher rates of health and retirement benefits and job security.
Finally, we would be remiss if we did not note that while salary increases generally, and merit and retention pools specifically, are critically important for many faculty, others of us are not seeking to form a union out of a desire to dramatically raise our salaries. Regardless of our specific titles and roles at the U of M, we are united first and foremost by a desire to increase the strength and power of our faculty voice in university governance. How we seek to do that will be a decision we must all make together, and the contract we achieve will reflect what we choose to prioritize and how organized, vocal, and unified we are when we do so.
MN Academics Steering Committee
MN Academics Communications Committee