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September 20, 2016/U of M Contingent & Tenure-Track Faculty United by State Bureau Decision for Union Vote/Blog

No date set yet for union election; ruling paves way for 1,000 Contingent Faculty to join 1,500 Tenure-Track Faculty for union election at Twin Cities campus

MINNEAPOLIS – Today University of Minnesota – Twin Cities faculty praised a decision by the State Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS) that affirms the unified bargaining unit requested by tenure-track and contingent faculty for their union election, setting the stage for a vote later this fall. Faculty are seeking to form a union for a stronger voice in University governance and a stronger voice in shaping the future of higher education in Minnesota.

“I am pleased with the state’s decision to allow contingent faculty like me the opportunity to gain a stronger voice at the University by forming a union with our tenure-track colleagues,” said Jason Stahl, a Lecturer in the Department of Organizational Leadership and Policy Development. “We are building this union together to strengthen the voice of faculty on our campus for ourselves and our students, and we are confident that we will win our vote.”

Tenure-track faculty and contingent faculty filed for an election in January to form one union on the Twin Cities campus. The U of M’s central administration objected, delaying the union vote for several months by attempting to keep tenure-track and contingent faculty divided. BMS held hearings in late April and early May to determine the proper bargaining unit for contract faculty positions like Lecturers and Teaching Specialists.

“Tenure-line and contingent faculty are forming a union together because we are all dedicated academics,” said Jerry Cohen, a Professor of Horticultural Science. “Contract faculty like Teaching Specialists and Lecturers teach many of the same classes, participate in faculty governance, and engage in service and research. While we have different roles at the University, we are all responsible for teaching our students and making the U a great place to learn.”

The decision concludes that “there is no evidence showing a community of interest with Unit 11 [Professional & Administrative] and strong evidence demonstrating significant community of interest with other undisputed Unit 8 [Twin Cities Instructional] classifications. For this reason, those incumbents in the Classifications in Question, located on the Twin Cities Campus of the University, Unit 8 is the appropriate unit assignment.”

“I want to thank the Bureau of Mediation Services for their diligent work on this matter, and I respect the decision they have reached regarding these instructional positions at the U of M,” said State Senator Patricia Torres Ray. “Faculty have every right to organize to demand better working conditions. I expect the University’s central administration to respect this decision by the Bureau and let faculty make their own decision on a union now. The University can’t afford to waste its limited resources fighting against their own faculty.”

“Students support the effort of contingent faculty to form a union with tenured faculty on campus because contingent instructors are who we see most often as undergrads and their lack of stability affects our education,” said Mica Standing Soldier, an undergraduate Senior in English and Creative Writing. “When instructors don’t know if they will be teaching the following semester, it affects the continuity of a degree program, and when they have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet for themselves and their families, we see that in the classroom.”

“Contingent faculty are forming unions across the country because we need greater job stability not only for ourselves, but also for our students and for the future of higher education,” said Mary Pogatshnik, a Senior Teaching Specialist in the Department of Spanish & Portuguese. “We must do better than to ask our students to compromise their education when they are taught by instructors working on unstable contracts.”

“As the University’s administration has increased the number and ratio of non-tenure-line positions, the fates of all faculty are increasingly intertwined,” said Irene Duranczyk, an Associate Professor in the College of Education and Human Development. “We believe that the precarious working conditions under which contingent faculty labor are not only bad for them but also bad for students and bad for us, the remaining tenure-line faculty.”

Faculty at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities campus filed for a union election to join SEIU Local 284 on Wednesday, January 20th. The union would include approximately 2,500 tenure-line and contingent faculty at the U of M – Twin Cities campus, and would be one of the largest single-campus faculty unions in the country. BMS ruled in March that contingent instructors like Teaching Specialists and Lecturers have not been previously placed in a bargaining unit for purposes of a union election, and that the University’s administrative classifications do not govern in this context.

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MN Academics United is an affiliate of SEIU Local 284. Faculty at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities campus are coming together to form a union for a stronger voice in shaping our University’s direction and priorities, our working conditions, and the future of higher education in Minnesota.

September 19, 2016/PODCAST: Jason Stahl/Blog
The MN Academics Podcast series will highlight the unique working conditions and precarity faced by contingent faculty at the University of Minnesota. 
 
The first podcast features Jason Stahl, a Lecturer in the Department of Organizational, Leadership, Policy and Development in the College of Education and Human Development. Jason describes his own work contributing to the excellence of the University and his own belief that all faculty need the collective power of a union. 
 

September 19, 2016/Union busting legal spending is a blight on the University/News Posts
DAILY EDITORIAL BOARD

On Thursday, the Minnesota Daily broke news that University of Minnesota administrators had spent more than $515,000 of state taxpayer and tuition money in its litigation against faculty unionizers.

The funds, spent between March and mid-July of this year, were paid to an outside law firm — Fredrikson & Byron — a legal counsel the University continues to work with. 

The use of funds in such a fashion has drawn criticism from some faculty members and state legislators, alike. 

Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, told the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group in a press release last week, “I’m sure no one in the legislature … intended for over half a million taxpayer dollars we appropriated to the University of Minnesota’s general fund to be used for attorney’s fees fighting the University’s own employees in exercising their right to form a union.” 

Hours after the Daily published its report, University officials contacted the paper via email, saying they would ensure no tuition, state or federal funds were used to pay any legal fees incurred during their continued battle with faculty union advocates in court. Interim Vice President and CFO, Michael Volna, said he’s unsure why money was pulled from that account to cover the costs of the fees.

In July, President Eric Kaler addressed his colleagues in a statement, saying, “For my part, I do not support a faculty union. […] I firmly believe our work as faculty members depends fundamentally on our autonomy as individuals executing our three-part mission of teaching, research, and service.”

Kaler argues that there is little evidence to suggest that unionization would enhance research — though, it seems likely that $515,000 could spur great forays into teaching, research and service, had the University doled out its money differently.

Across the nation, faculty members lament cuts to higher education, low pay and tenuous job security — especially adjunct and non-tenured faculty members. At the University, officials suggest that the creation of a bargaining unit between faculty and the Service Employees International Union would “not conform to law.” 

One fact remains salient: If the faculty union push is successful, the University could be home to one of the largest faculty unions in the nation. While the University may peddle empty rhetoric — highlighting concerns over potential financial and structural reverberations unionization could have on the University — it seems plausible that the school’s real concern lies in the power a unionized faculty would wield.

While some faculty members are opposed to the union effort, a strong, unionized faculty would surely serve as a watchdog against its administration.

In its mission, the University states that the school is “founded in the belief that all people are enriched by understanding [and] is dedicated to the advancement of learning and the search for truth.”

So, we ask administrators: How does the University intend to fulfill its mission when the conduit for the “advancement of learning” — its teachers — are the ones being suppressed?

September 15, 2016/U uses tuition, state funds to pay legal fees associated with faculty union push/News Posts
JACKIE RENZETTI and KACEY HOLMEN

The University of Minnesota has spent more than $500,000 of state taxpayer and tuition money in legal fees as it battles faculty unionization advocates in court.

Records obtained by the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group through a public records request show the money — nearly $515,000 from a University fund of tuition and state money — was used to hire the law firm Fredrikson & Byron as the school clashed with faculty union supporters to determine what faculty positions could be included in the union vote. 

While the University defended the expenses as necessary to defeat an “unprecedented request to create a bargaining unit that does not conform to state law,” supporters of a faculty union say the money was used by the University to hire the law firm to try and thwart the unionization effort. 

“It is a very poor use of money that students use for an education,” said Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, who chairs the House Higher Education Policy and Finance committee. “Legal fees should be a separate fund.”

The five invoices date back to March and go through mid-July. Fredrikson & Byron is still working with the University, said University spokesman Evan Lapiska. 

The University, on a school website, has said it has used outside legal counsel. 

"I’m sure no one in the legislature … intended for over half a million taxpayer dollars we appropriated to the University of Minnesota's general fund to be used for attorney's fees fighting the University’s own employees in exercising their right to form a union,” said Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis in a Wednesday MPIRG press release. “[The University] … ought to be spending their limited taxpayer dollars on what should be their top priority: educating their students.”

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) filed for a faculty election in January with the Bureau of Mediation Services. Since then, the University has been involved in a legal battle over which types of faculty positions, such as non-tenured faculty, can be included in the union vote.

“I think all of us were a little dismayed, perhaps not completely surprised … that the University administration was partisan in this endeavor since their statements to us led most of the University community to believe that they are neutral in this,” said cultural studies and comparative literature professor Tim Brennan. 

Acquiring outside legal counsel for union organizing procedures is common for universities or organizations where there’s been a push to unionize, said John Budd, a Carlson School of Management professor who specializes in labor studies. 

Still, the University’s motion filed in state court in March challenging a state decision to hold hearings about the classification of non-tenured faculty was unusual, Budd said. 

“Essentially, the University is trying to say their expertise is better than the experts’ expertise,” Budd told the Minnesota Daily at the time of the lawsuit. 

Once the Bureau of Mediation Services decides who can vote, SEIU plans to move forward with the election, Brennan said. 

“These one-time costs are necessary for the University to fully address the complex legal and practical issues involved in this issue, which will have great effect on the University’s faculty, staff, and students far into the future,” the University’s Office of the General Counsel said in an emailed statement.

August 17, 2016/Fact check: faculty union dues & salary increases/Blog

Dear Colleagues,

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

Regarding salary structure, faculty union contracts at other public research universities include various mechanisms to ensure that faculty receive pay increases, including cost-of-living adjustments (or “across-the-board” increases), merit raise pools, and additional out-of-cycle adjustments, often for retention purposes. Some of these mechanisms are currently used at the U of M, and a union contract would not change their current use or limit their application unless there were a collective decision to do so. However, a contract could provide for a much greater degree of clarity, transparency, and faculty voice in how they are used.

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.

Sincerely,

 

MN Academics Steering Committee

Mark Borello

Irene Duranczyk

Sumanth Gopinath

Mindy Kurzer

Mary Pogatshnik

Erin Trapp

 

MN Academics Communications Committee

Tim Brennan

Teri Caraway

Jerry Cohen

Jason McGrath

Mary Pogatshnik

Naomi Scheman

July 19, 2016/Faculty unions & excellence: the evidence/Blog

Dear Colleagues,

In recent weeks, many of you have received information from colleagues suggesting that a faculty union will undermine the quality of the faculty at the University of Minnesota and have therefore urged you to join them in opposing our efforts to form a faculty union. These communications assert that there are no US institutions with faculty unions in the top 50 universities on the 2015 Academic Ranking of Worldwide Universities (ARWU) and infer that the US institutions in the top 50 are excellent because they do not have unions. The data used to make this argument and the conclusion drawn from them are flawed. Many excellent research universities have faculty unions; the low rate of unionization at top US research institutions is a product of an unwelcoming political climate and high legal barriers to organizing; and unions at universities in the US have contributed positively to institutional excellence.

The ARWU includes 17 institutions outside the United States in its top 50 list, and nearly all of them have unions or other faculty organizations that represent the local equivalent of tenure-track faculty. Of these, 14 are empowered to bargain collectively through their organizational affiliations. In the UK, for example, all universities have a branch of the University and College Union. French universities are integrated into the pay structure of the French public sector, and collective bargaining is carried out by a consortium of trade unions. Faculty at German and Swedish universities are represented by unions and covered by public sector collective bargaining agreements. Top Australian universities such as the University of Sydney and the University of Melbourne also have faculty unions. Closer to home, our colleagues at the University of British Columbia are represented by a faculty union, and the University of Toronto has a faculty association that engages in collective bargaining with the administration.

US higher education is therefore anomalous in the relative absence of faculty unions at its top institutions, and the reasons for this have little to do with excellence and more to do with inadequate legal protections and a political landscape unfavorable to unions. One reason unionization rates are so low—and not only in higher education—is that American employers often erect high obstacles to unionization and state and federal authorities do not properly or effectively enforce workers’ rights. The hurdles to forming unions are especially high in higher education. Tenure-track faculty at private universities in the US have often been found to lack protection under the National Labor Relations Act as “managerial employees,” which means that employers can legally fire those who participate in a union drive and are under no obligation to bargain collectively if faculty establish a union. Of the 33 US universities in the top 50 of the Academic Ranking of Worldwide Universities, 17 are private institutions. Of the 16 public institutions, 5 (Colorado, Maryland, North Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin) are governed by state laws that prohibit collective bargaining in the public sector or do not require an employer to bargain if a union is formed.

In addition, it is worth noting that tenure-track faculty at the University of California (UC), of which six campuses are in the ARWU top 50 (Berkeley, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and Irvine), are represented by the University of California Faculty Association (UCFA). The faculty associations from the multitude of UC campuses have a system-wide organization, the Council of UCFA. UC faculty formed this dues-supported association in 1979, and it performs some functions of a faculty union. Although only the UC Santa Cruz Faculty Association is a legal bargaining agent, by virtue of its membership in the Council, faculty throughout the UC system gain stronger representation on issues such as faculty salaries, medical, fringe, retirement benefits, and other conditions of work like teaching load and outside employment policies. 

At research universities in the US that have a faculty union, moreover, we find evidence that faculty unions contribute to, rather than detract from, institutional excellence. After faculty gained collective bargaining rights at Rutgers University in 1970, it was transformed from a teaching-intensive institution to a research institution that is now part of the American Association of Universities, which comprises the 62 leading public and private research universities in the US. Rutgers’ faculty union played a central role in this ascent by increasing salaries over the decades, making it possible to attract more accomplished faculty. In its 2007–2011 contract, the faculty union negotiated a “faculty development fund” for the hire of 205 new tenure-track professors.

Faculty unions also contribute to institutional quality by putting more pressure on administrators to invest in the university’s core mission. A recent study found that unionization may result in a more efficient and effective university with higher graduation and completion rates and lower growth in costs and expenses. The author hypothesizes that these outcomes occur because unionization leads universities to direct more resources to instruction over administration. The experience of the University of Oregon provides additional evidence of this dynamic. Since the faculty formed a union in 2012, the University of Oregon has reduced spending on extravagant branding campaignsprovided more job stability, higher pay and more career advancement opportunities to its non-tenure track faculty; and committed to expanding the number of tenure track faculty positions.

The evidence outlined above refutes the argument that a faculty union will compromise the excellence of the University of Minnesota. We urge you to take this evidence into account when making your decision about supporting our faculty union. 

If you have any questions, would like to speak with a colleague about the union, and/or wish to get more involved in our collective effort, reply to this email and we will be in touch. We also encourage supporters to sign our public letter.

Sincerely,

 

MN Academics Steering Committee

Mark Borello

Irene Duranczyk

Sumanth Gopinath

Mindy Kurzer

Mary Pogatshnik

Erin Trapp

 

MN Academics Communications Committee

Tim Brennan

Teri Caraway

Jerry Cohen

Jason McGrath

Mary Pogatshnik

Naomi Scheman