by Rosemarie Park, Associate Professor
The University of Minnesota owes its greatness to the amazing people who work here, from top to bottom. Our team is strong because of sound faculty governance policies that have evolved over years of interchanges between rank-and-file faculty, department leaders and central administrators. There is room for improvement, but these status quo policies and processes represent the best balance thus far.
Unfortunately, the University’s Office of Human Resources (OHR) has stated its intention to alter some current processes, including merit pay and other raises, supposedly because of the “Maintenance of Status Quo” order issued when faculty filed for our union election.
The explanation they have offered does not hold water.
When public employees file for a union election, the state issues such an order to bar the employer (in this case, the University) from unilaterally changing terms and conditions of employment that a union would bargain over so as not to influence the outcome of the election. OHR claims this order requires them to halt merit pay decisions in order to avoid legal trouble. Their interpretation is erroneous for the following reasons.
First, well-established legal doctrine has determined that the employer must maintain the dynamic status quo — that is, continuing the same HR processes — not the static status quo by freezing everything. Many employers with pending union elections continue current processes without impeding established legal procedures in such cases.
Second, faculty leaders of the organizing effort sent the state and OHR a letter two months ago stating that we interpret the order as requiring maintenance of status quo processes and wish to clarify this further explicitly to include merit pay, among other things. That letter further invited OHR to issue a joint statement to the state supporting this interpretation, but they have refused. This request remains open.
Third, OHR is cherry-picking which HR policies to freeze and which to continue. They are freezing faculty merit pay decisions but are continuing faculty promotion processes, for instance. This is not a principle they are embracing, but actually a tactical choice — one that is mean-spirited and irresponsible.
We’ve all received the emails from the University of Minnesota’s Office of Human Resources (OHR) saying they respect the union effort and support a speedy election process. Unfortunately, withholding merit pay and blaming the union election for this action is a rather gross and obvious contradiction of that sentiment.
OHR’s job is to shape compensation processes for the University, but now they want to stop doing that job in order to score political points against the union effort.
Throwing this wrench into current processes arouses faculty anger across the University and directs that anger at the union organizing drive. This is a textbook anti-union tactic (literally: see the sample anti-union letter in Professor John Budd’s “Labor Relations” textbook).
With this choice, OHR has abdicated its responsibility to continue status-quo policies for determining compensation and has thrown a wrench in the gears of University administration.
This OHR action jeopardizes the long-term well-being of the University and relations between faculty and the administration in order to seek narrow, short-term political advantage.
We implore OHR to reconsider its position and allow all current employment policies and processes to move forward unimpeded.