Why We Are Forming a Union

Dear Colleagues,

As tenured, tenure-track, and contingent faculty, we need a stronger voice in shaping our University’s direction and priorities, our working conditions, and the future of higher education. By uniting our strength with SEIU, we can participate more effectively in wider efforts to defend the values of higher education and the land grant tradition – values that are eroding here and are under attack elsewhere around the country.

For tenured and tenure-track faculty, that means the opportunity to halt the erosion of research funding, community connections, teaching resources, and tenure lines. For the increasing percentage of faculty who are adjunct or contingent, that means the power to fight for better pay, job security, and access to basic support for research, scholarship, and professional development.

For all of us, a faculty union will give us the means to democratize our university through true shared governance and wield direct political power. With our union, we can not only negotiate wages, benefits, and working conditions, but also gain a real seat at the table for university governance, and bring our voice to the state legislature to advocate for greater state support to keep the U of M accessible to all Minnesotans.

We support forming a faculty union for the good of our profession, our community, our students, and our future.

Join us. We are the U!

Click here to see the over 400 tenure-line and contingent faculty who have signed this letter in support of our union.

Click here to add your name! 

Latest News

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.



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

May 27, 2016/Two big wins for post-docs/Blog

Dear Colleagues,

Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor issued updated rules pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This is an incredible victory for millions of hardworking people in the United States. Millions of salaried professionals, including postdoctoral researchers, will soon be eligible for overtime pay, if they make less than $47,476 annually. For more information on the improvements to salaried compensation, this fact sheet is quite useful.

It was a postdoctoral researcher from the U of M, along with SEIU, who took the opportunity to represent postdocs from across the country in a meeting with the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs of the White House to ensure our inclusion in these new federal overtime rules.

This is a big win for our unique profession, one where we are often driven to work long, unpredictable hours for low salaries. This change opens the possibility of both increased financial support and clearer job expectations to fit within a 40-hour workweek. The decision institutions will have to make is to raise postdoctoral researchers to $47,476 or pay overtime compensation for any hours over 40 weekly.

The overtime rules received praise from several postdoc allies:

  • President Obama called the changes “one of most important steps we're taking to help grow middle-class wages.”

  • The U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins said the new rules would “enrich the future of our research enterprise.

  • The National Postdoctoral Association (NPA) called it “a positive step towards achieving our goal of increasing compensation for postdoctoral researchers nationwide.”

  • SEIU President Mary Kay Henry called it a “huge victory for higher education, and beyond.”

  • The California Faculty Association said the changes will “revive the spirit of the FLSA.”

This rule change is a huge step forward, but as you know there is much work left to be done. We cannot wait for government action, and we cannot count on the University’s central administration to do the right thing. We need to continue to organize – just as many researchers at the U of M did when we were threatened with eviction from our university housing.

In April, postdoctoral researchers at the U of M received an eviction notice from Commonwealth Terrace Cooperative (CTC), the on-campus housing complex where University postdoctoral researchers, research associates and medical residents have lived in affordable family housing for the past 45 years. As you may know, CTC housing provides a diverse, safe community with access to great public schools, day-care and playgrounds, all conveniently located near campus.

The 60 families impacted by the eviction notices did not take the news lying down. We worked with MN Academics United/SEIU, in conjunction with the Postdoctoral Association, to fight the unexpected eviction notices – and we won!

We started signing union cards for our union, collected family pictures and stories  for a massive social media campaign, drafted a petition letter and came to a Housing Authority meeting armed with a list of demands. It was encouraging to see Faculty also email the Housing Authority on our behalf.

On May 11, we won every single demand that we raised with the Housing Authority, including:

  • All researchers currently living at CTC have the right to remain in our homes,

  • We can stay for the originally specified period of 7 total years,

  • Our rent will not be raised, and

  • Researchers at a second housing complex will be given the same rights.

As University of Minnesota postdoctoral researcher Dr. Sunny Chan said, “The University and CTC tried to force us out of our homes. But by standing together, we pushed back against these heartless attempts to destabilize our families.” Dr. Xiaofei Zhang added “By coming together we won the right to stay in our homes at an affordable price.”

This was an incredible victory against enormous odds, this is a perfect example of why now is the time for all postdoctoral researchers to come together on campuses across this country. We have to be willing to fight for ourselves and for each other.

We want to hear more about your experiences as a postdoc. Fill out this quick survey from SEIU Faculty Forward  let us know the circumstances that impact you the most.

If you haven't yet taken the first step to making real improvements at the U, do so now by signing a card for our union by scrolling to the bottom of our  webpage. Together we will keep winning.


In solidarity,


Geoffrey Rojas Ph. D, Characterization Facility and President of the PDA

Sunny Chan, Ph.D., Pediatrics, Medical School

Satish Desai Ph.D, Researcher, Physics

Adria Fernandez Ph. D, Postdoctoral Fellow, Agronomy and Plant Genetics

Ben Frederick Intoy Ph. D, Postdoctoral Associate, Physics

Li Lei Ph. D, Research Associate, Population Genetics and Bioinformatics, Agronomy and Plant Genetics

Joel Lewis Ph. D, Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Mathematics

Hemant Kumar Mishra Ph.D, Researcher, Veterinary Biomedical Science

Senait Senay Ph. D, Research Associate, Applied Economics

May 19, 2016/Why we are organizing with SEIU/Blog

Dear Colleagues,

In the campus conversation about forming a faculty union, some have asked specifically why we are seeking to join SEIU rather than another union. After all, thanks in part to its role in campaigns such as Justice for Janitors and the Fight for $15, SEIU is a union better known for their work representing hourly low-wage workers such as food service workers, home health care workers, and janitors than they are for representing professionals like university faculty. In this email, we outline several reasons why we believe that SEIU is a good choice.

While it is true that SEIU has been in the limelight for their activities with service sector workers, it also represents many professional public sector workers like doctors, nurses, and social workers in cities and states all over the country. More specifically, SEIU represents over 40,000 non-tenure track and tenure-track faculty members. SEIU is one of the largest unions in North America, and the fastest-growing. In the past three years, nearly 13,000 adjunct and full-time non-tenure-track faculty have voted to form a union with SEIU, including here at Hamline University in Saint Paul. And jointly with the AAUP and the National Education Association (NEA), SEIU represents 23,000 members across the entire California State University system, including professors and lecturers.

Why is it that most faculty who have formed unions in the last few years have chosen to join SEIU? SEIU members have made a permanent and ongoing commitment to help other people form unions and negotiate excellent contracts. At Hamline, adjunct faculty won raises of 20-30% – their first raises in over 10 years – as well as professional development funds and compensation for course development and late cancellations. In the California State system, faculty recently won $11 million in state funding for new tenure lines. The current energy in higher education organizing is due to the work of SEIU members.

SEIU’s membership shares our concern about the worrisome trends in higher education that are transforming public universities across the country, including the U of M. These trends include increased reliance on contingent instructors instead of tenure lines as a cost-saving measure, growing corporatization and administrative bloat, and the alarming decrease in our state funding. We face decreasing public support, increasing reliance on corporate sponsorship of research, and skyrocketing tuition costs and student debt. We need to think more creatively about how to reverse these trends.

No union has been more effective at launching creative campaigns at both the national and local levels on education issues. Last year, SEIU Local 284 took part in a national push that won strong, common sense regulations of the for-profit college sector and secured half a billion dollars in debt forgiveness for defrauded students who went to for-profit schools. And, in 2013, Local 284 led the fight to Pay Back Our Kids after the 2011 legislature shut down the government and “borrowed” over $2 billion from school districts to balance the budget. This year, Local 284 led an effort at the state capitol to invest part of our budget surplus in proposals that will directly impact U students, including a student loan tax credit and a decrease in tuition. These initiatives are part of the SEIU vision to make education accessible and affordable to all Minnesotans from cradle to career.

SEIU works with allies at both the state and national levels to work towards that vision. Our decision to organize as “one faculty” was endorsed by the AAUP Minnesota Conferencewe are working collaboratively with the University Education Association of UMD and Crookston (affiliated with both the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the NEA through Education Minnesota); and SEIU works with these organizations at the national level as well. Together, we lead the fight on important education initiatives such as opposing the federal budget sequester that drastically cut research funding.

By joining SEIU, we become part of a broader movement that supports investment in higher education by building concrete alliances with workers inside and outside of universities. If we are to counter troubling trends in higher education, we need to work together with people outside the ivory tower. As part of SEIU, we would be a part of shaping these innovative strategies and thinking creatively about how to connect our concerns to those of our broader communities. SEIU has shown that it is committed to building this movement and it has also proven that it delivers real benefits to its growing membership in higher education.

We filed for our union election to join SEIU Local 284 because SEIU is committed to defending and improving higher education – in alliance both with faculty groups such as the AAUP and also with other workers who recognize the important role of public higher education. By forming a faculty union with SEIU we can both play a stronger role in shaping the future direction of the University of Minnesota and also participate in a broader, cross-sector movement to persuade lawmakers to reinvest in higher education and to reinvigorate the public mission of our great public universities.



The Communications Committee of MN Academics United


Tim Brennan

Teri L. Caraway

Jerry Cohen

Jason McGrath

Mary Pogatshnik

Naomi Scheman

May 6, 2016/How a faculty union can strengthen shared governance/Blog

Dear Colleagues,

We, the undersigned, have over 200 years of combined service in faculty governance. From the beginning of our effort to form a faculty union, one of our motivations has been to strengthen the voice of faculty in shared governance.

When the faculty last voted on whether to form a union in 1997, we fell short by fewer than 30 votes. Nevertheless, our organized resistance to the Board of Regents’ attempt to undermine tenure led to a strong faculty voice in shaping the revised tenure code and spurred deeper engagement in faculty governance, representing a high point in effective shared governance. Through shared governance we ensured that our tenure code remained among the strongest in the country and inspired the Regents to endorse the strongest protections for academic freedom in the country.

Given these achievements and the continuing commitment many faculty have to the serious work of the Senate and its committees, we have no desire to eliminate or weaken shared governance. However, we are troubled by the lack of progress on faculty-initiated reforms, a concern shared even by those who do not publicly support forming a union. As one long-time senator said at the February 4, 2016, Faculty Consultative Committee meeting, senior leaders “have squelched virtually every single initiative faculty have brought forward over the past few years.”

For example, faculty, including through the relevant Senate committees, have for many years been discussing the need to improve our uncompetitively sub-standard sabbatical and parental leave policies. Response from the administration has been distressingly slow, and recent signs of progress seem to have been spurred by our efforts at forming a union. In the area of parental leave, the faculty union at UMD recently won a full semester off with pay for women giving birth, which is certainly a start toward a parental leave policy that seriously addresses the needs of all new parents. Terms and conditions of employment such as sabbatical and parental leaves are matters that a union would empower us to sit across the table with the administration as legal equals to negotiate in a binding contract – a striking contrast with our strictly consultative role in shared governance.

There are concerns about rumors that a unionized faculty could not participate in the Faculty Senate. This misperception arises in part because unionized faculty in Crookston and Duluth do not participate in the University Senate. The administration has also claimed that the Public Employment Labor Relations Act (PELRA) prohibits their participation in faculty governance. We disagree. PELRA explicitly states: “This subdivision does not prevent communication between public postsecondary employers and postsecondary professional employees, other than through the exclusive representative, regarding policies and matters that are not terms and conditions of employment.” The statute seems to contemplate an institution like a Faculty Senate. PELRA only requires that the University negotiate exclusively with the union on terms and conditions of employment.

Unionized faculty at Duluth and Crookston did not contest their removal from the Senate, but we are confident that faculty on the Twin Cities campus would demand continued participation as a condition of our first union contract. Given the explicit provisions of PELRA and the public statements by the administration about the value of shared governance, we hope and expect that this demand would be met.

Many of our colleagues also worry that a union will create an adversarial relationship with the administration. This outcome is a possibility but not inevitable. Under our current shared governance, without a union, sharp disagreements occur regularly between the administration and the faculty. We are reassured that colleagues on campuses with faculty unions report that their unions work collaboratively with the administration on issues of common interest. There are disagreements, of course, just as there are here today, but the collective bargaining process gives faculty a binding mechanism to work through them and reach an agreement that both parties support, and to assure that the administration respects the institutions of shared governance. The University of Oregon’s first contract, for example, explicitly incorporated protections for their Senate and University constitution. When their Board of Trustees attempted to alter policies and practices without consulting the Senate, they violated the union’s legally binding contract. The faculty union compelled the administration to sit down with faculty to negotiate the changes in policy in accord with the procedures outlined in the constitution. We encourage you to read these reflections by faculty union leaders at Rutgers and Western Washington University on what unionization has meant for shared governance there.

How might a union affect the current work that we do through shared governance? The faculty union would negotiate terms and conditions of employment while the Faculty Senate would govern matters not explicitly subject to collective bargaining, such as student evaluations, conflict of interest, and campus sustainability practices. Specifically with regard to the tenure process, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in 1984 that a union can negotiate the procedural steps of the tenure process but not the substantive criteria for tenure; the union also cannot invoke the contract’s grievance process to challenge tenure decisions. The tenure code would continue to govern in this important area.

The experience of colleagues with faculty unions persuades us that a union will provide us with a stronger voice in shared governance and create a more productive relationship between the faculty and the administration. We have a long and proud history of faculty governance on our campus, one that we value deeply. Our effort to form a faculty union on the Twin Cities campus will work with, and not against, that system of governance. It will be up to us, together, to ensure that result when we negotiate a union contract.



Lisa Albrecht

Bruce Braun

Marilyn Bruin

Teri L. Caraway

Cesare Casarino

Juliette Cherbuliez

Anna Clark

Jerry D. Cohen

Susan Craddock

Irene Duranczyk

Edward Eiffler

Meredith Gill

Lisa Hilbink

Mindy S. Kurzer

Christine Marran

M.J. Maynes

Rick McCormick

William Messing

Riv-Ellen Prell

Paula Rabinowitz

Naomi Scheman

JB Shank

Ruth Shaw

Karen-Sue Taussig

Eva von Dassow

Tom Walsh

May 2, 2016/The administration's movement on merit raises demonstrates our collective power/Blog

Dear Colleagues,

Two weeks ago, the University’s Office of Human Resources (OHR) informed our faculty organizing committee that they would agree to continue merit increases under current policies while we await our union election (and later sent a mass email to this effect). Today, we reached a written agreement on this important issue. 

We are delighted that after three months, OHR reversed course on this matter and agreed with us that merit raises should be given. This sudden reversal was in fact the culmination of a concerted effort by faculty working together to make the central administration change course, and it demonstrates what we can achieve when we act together.

Here’s the full story: When we filed for our union election, the state issued what’s called a “maintenance of status quo order” that barred the administration from unilaterally changing terms and conditions of employment that a faculty union will bargain over if we vote to form one. Legal doctrine has established that this order applies narrowly to wages and working conditions (benefits, hours, pay, etc.) and that the employer must maintain the dynamic status-quo – that is, continuing the same HR processes – not the static status quo by freezing everything. It does not impact the U’s ability to continue existing practices like merit pay and promotion raises.

The Faculty Organizing Committee asked BMS to clarify the order to this effect in January, just days after it was releasedto allow the administration to “continue its current practices regarding periodic raises, hiring and promotion processes, course assignments, retention offers, merit or tenure review, and granting of sabbaticals.” BMS issues clarifications when both parties agree to them, so all OHR would have had to do to settle this issue right then was send a letter agreeing to our position.

OHR said they would reply to our letter shortly, then did nothing for over two months. When they used this order, which is supposed to be a worker protection, to instead sow confusion and anxiety amongst the faculty, we took action:

On March 30, 10 faculty senators sent this letter to the Faculty Consultative Committee expressing concern about this issue. This letter was crafted by three members of the faculty union’s organizing committee who are also members of the Faculty Senate.

On April 12-13, the MN Daily published this Letter to the Editor by Rosemarie Park on behalf of our Organizing Committee to publicize the administration’s inaction.

We don’t think it’s a coincidence that the administration contacted us about a resolution the day that letter appeared in the Daily. This shows what we can accomplish when we stick together, and that’s what a union is all about.


In Solidarity,

The Rapid Response Team of MN Academics United

Tim Brennan

Teri Caraway

Jerry Cohen

Jason McGrath

Mary Pogatshnik

Naomi Scheman

April 19, 2016/One faculty union does not mean "one size fits all"/Blog

Dear Colleagues,

First, some good news: yesterday, the State Court of Appeals dismissed the University’s appeal of a ruling by the Bureau of Mediation Services. The hearing regarding the community of interest for the unit we filed for will now go forward as scheduled, beginning today!

As we outlined in our last email, we filed to include all instructional employees as part of the Twin Cities Instructional Unit when we filed for our union election. We’re advocating for the inclusion of job categories that the University has classified as “P&A” because we share a community of interest – despite our different titles and ranks, we teach many of the same classes, participate in various faculty governance bodies together, and engage in service and research. The law provides for an Instructional Unit, and regardless of OHR’s bureaucratic classifications, the unit we’ve filed for complies with both the letter and the spirit of the law.

We recognize, however, that there are differences in the responsibilities of tenure-track and contract faculty, and our union contract will take those differences into account. Sharing a common bargaining unit does not require identical terms and conditions of employment. To the contrary, faculty unions that represent both tenure-track (TT) and non-tenure-track (NTT) faculty in the same bargaining unit are very common across the country. These unions can negotiate contracts that include provisions specific to each group. According to the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions, there are over 20 universities across the country that do so, including the University of Oregon, Cal State, and UM-Duluth and the MN State Colleges & Universities.1

For example, the faculty union contract at the University of Oregon, which is also a major research institution, delineates distinct terms and conditions of employment for TT and NTT faculty. Their contract provides for specific salary provisions for TT and NTT faculty (Article 26) and distinct procedures for review and promotion (Articles 19 & 20). After forming their union, TT faculty at Oregon still undergo promotion and tenure reviews under the University’s tenure code, while NTT faculty have a separate set of evaluation criteria.

We filed for one union election for all faculty because our fates are increasingly intertwined, and we will be more powerful together. By forming one bargaining unit that encompasses both TT and NTT faculty, we have the power to address broader systemic issues on campus. The precarious work conditions of NTT faculty are not only bad for contract faculty and our students but are also bad for the remaining TT faculty. With fewer and fewer TT positions, the remaining TT faculty are stretched ever thinner, and the low pay and job insecurity of NTT positions creates a powerful economic incentive for administrators to further reduce TT positions. If only TT faculty form a union, what will stop OHR from continuing to shift instructional work to contingent positions and weakening the standards of those positions? By uniting together, we can address both our common interests and our specific needs more effectively than if we are apart.

In a letter to us from the Rutgers University faculty union president earlier this year, he wrote:

“Tenure-track and contingent faculty are advancing together. At Rutgers, our bargaining unit encompasses both categories of faculty. In negotiations, this alliance promotes both parties: non-tenure track faculty gain from their partnership with full professors experienced and secure enough to make bold demands. Those same senior faculty find their power to address the broader systemic issues on campus enhanced by the participation of a broader cross-section of the university community. In blunt terms, a “big-tent” faculty union marries strength and credibility – a formula I would recommend to you in Minnesota.”

The University’s Office of Human Resources has used their administrative categories to artificially divide us over the years. Our job titles should not obscure our shared interest in building a stronger and more just university together.



The Rapid Response Team of MN Academics United


Tim Brennan

Teri Caraway

Jerry Cohen

Jason McGrath

Mary Pogatshnik

Naomi Scheman


  1. National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions; "Directory of U.S. Faculty Contracts and Bargaining Agents in Institutions of Higher Education." September 2012.