Tenure-line and contingent faculty are forming a union because 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.
When we filed for our union election, we filed to include both tenure-track faculty and contingent instructors, including Lecturers, Teaching Specialists, and Extension Educators, because we all share many of the same responsibilities and concerns, and share a community of interest at the University.
On September 20, 2016, the State Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS) affirmed the unified bargaining unit we requested by placing Lecturers and Teaching Specialists in the Twin Cities Instructional bargaining unit (Unit 8). BMS placed Extension Educators in the Professional & Administrative unit (Unit 11) since Unit 8 is limited to the Twin Cities campuses.
The University administration agreed from the beginning that the following non-tenure-track faculty positions are also in the bargaining unit: contract faculty, temporary faculty, visiting faculty, and adjunct faculty. These positions make up around 200 non-tenure-track faculty at Twin Cities campuses.
PELRA (the state law governing labor relations at the U of M) defines a “Twin Cities Instructional” bargaining unit (Sec. 179A.11, Subd. 1.8), which “consists of the positions of all instructional employees with the rank of professor, associate professor, assistant professor, including research associate or instructor, including research fellow, located on the Twin Cities campuses.”
For employees with job titles not explicitly named in the statute, like lecturers, teachings specialists, and extension educators, PELRA created a process for assigning those workers to a bargaining unit (Sec. 179A.10, Subd. 4):“The commissioner [of the Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS)] shall assign state employee classifications, court employee classifications, University of Minnesota employee classifications, and supervisory positions to the appropriate units when the classifications or positions have not been assigned under subdivision 2 or section 179A.101or 179A.11 or have been significantly modified in occupational content subsequent to assignment under these sections. The assignment of the classes shall be made on the basis of the community of interest…”
That is why it was the up to the Commissioner of BMS – not the administration or the faculty union – to properly place employees in the appropriate bargaining unit.
Some schools on the Twin Cities campuses have been “severed” from the legally defined “Twin Cities Instructional” bargaining unit (Unit 8) following a procedure set forth in the statute: the Medical School, Health Sciences, and the Law School. The following colleges/schools are included in the instructional bargaining unit (Unit 8): Biological Sciences; Design; Education and Human Development; Liberal Arts; Humphrey; Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences; Carlson School of Management; Continuing Education; and Science and Engineering. For the “Professional & Administrative” unit (Unit 11), which will not be voting in this election, all schools on all U of M campuses across Minnesota are included in the bargaining unit.
On Wednesday, January 20, we filed for our union election with the state Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS). On September 20, BMS issued a ruling that placed Lecturers and Teaching Specialists in Unit 8, affirming the unified bargaining unit we requested when we filed for our election.
The University’s central administration filed a request for reconsideration of that decision with BMS, and filed an appeal of that decision with the State Court of Appeals. BMS denied the University’s request for a stay of our election proceedings, pending their appeal. The Court dismissed the appeal as premature. This is the second time the Court has dismissed an appeal by the University in this election process.
BMS will continue to work with us and with the University to resolve the remaining questions regarding the details of our election, and we expect this to take months.
When our election is held, if there are more yes votes than no votes, then our union will be certified by BMS and we can then begin to negotiate with the University for our first contract.
While it would be best for administrators to remain neutral and let faculty decide for ourselves, it did not take long for the University’s central administration, and even President Eric Kaler, to tell faculty why they think it’s a bad idea for faculty to have a stronger voice despite their stated intention of neutrality.
In some cases, administrators at other universities have resorted to more intimidating tactics to spread fear and doubt about our rights, so it’s important for us to know our rights while we form our union.
The standard set in PELRA is that an employee must work more than 14 hours per week or more than 35% of what is considered full-time in their position to be eligible to be in a public-sector union. Since academic work is not typically measured in hours or conducted in 40-hour work weeks, that standard would be difficult to measure. We expect that we will be able to work with the administration to come to an agreement about a threshold based on credit hours, student contact hours, or some other clear, transparent measure that makes it easy for both administrators and employees to know who is eligible to vote and participate.
When a union files for an election, BMS issues a status quo order that bars employers from unilaterally changing terms and conditions of employment.
The status quo order applies narrowly to wages and working conditions (benefits, hours, pay, etc). It does not impact any of the other business addressed by the Faculty Senate, and should not impact the administration’s ability to work collegially with faculty on any of the policy issues addressed by university governance outside that narrow scope.
After the administration sent a mass e-mail to faculty expressing confusion about the status quo order, the faculty organizing committee sent this letter to the Bureau of Mediation Services requesting clarification of the status quo order to more explicitly state that the order does not interfere with current practices, including periodic raises, promotion processes, retention offers, merit or tenure review. We expect this will provide the administration with the clarity they require to conduct business as usual between now and the election.
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.
Our union will be a democratic body. We will choose our own team to negotiate our contract with the University and we will elect our own representatives to union leadership. Contracts must be ratified by a majority vote of union members in our bargaining unit before they take effect. In addition, all members can help shape our contract and our union through bargaining surveys, service on committees, and electing union officers.
In Minnesota, tenure-line faculty have unions at MNSCU, UMN-Duluth, and UMN-Crookston. Adjunct faculty at Hamline University are members of SEIU Local 284 and made significant gains in their first contract, which granted raises to their base pay for the first time in 10 years. Adjunct faculty at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) voted to join SEIU Local 284 in September.
Around the country, colleges and universities from Georgetown, Rutgers, and the University of Massachusetts in the East to the University of Oregon and the California State University system in the West have faculty unions that ensure faculty a stronger voice in the governance of their universities. Faculty unions can negotiate over workplace issues that deeply affect not only our welfare but also our ability to be excellent teachers and productive scholars, including salaries, health and retirement benefits, teaching loads, sabbatical and leave policies, and the number of tenure-track positions.
SEIU represents 38,000 tenure-line and non-tenured contingent faculty across the country, from Georgetown and the University of Chicago to the California State University System. SEIU is one of the largest unions in the country, uniting 2 million members in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico. With over 30,000 members in Minnesota, we will join a powerful collective voice in our state to advocate for greater support for higher education at our state legislature.
With a union contract, we can empower our Faculty Senate and make our participation in shared governance more meaningful. For example, the California State University system contract explicitly recognizes “the unique roles and responsibilities of the Academic Senate(s).” In the California State system, the Faculty Senate governs academic issues, while the union negotiates workplace issues. Union members there are full participants in the Faculty Senate, and they’ve successfully used the power of their union to protect faculty voice in academic governance. Likewise at the University of Oregon, their union contract explicitly recognizes their Faculty Senate and requires their administration to consult the Senate on academic issues.