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 Conference; we 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
Teri L. Caraway