Ruling sets stage for 2,500 Twin Cities faculty to take union vote

cs0bau0ueaaidznThe historic organizing drive among faculty at the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus cleared a major hurdle today, when a state agency ruled contingent and tenure-track faculty could join together in one potential bargaining unit.

The Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services’ decision clears the way for about 1,000 contingent and 1,500 tenure-track faculty members to vote in an organizing election as soon as this fall. If successful, the vote would create one of the largest single-campus faculty unions in the U.S.

Supporters of the organizing effort, sponsored by MN Academics United and SEIU Local 284, said the ruling confirms faculty members’ shared stake in a strong, unified voice at the university.

“As the university’s administration has increased the number and ratio of non-tenure-line positions, the fates of all faculty are increasingly intertwined,” Irene Duranczyk, an associate professor in the College of Education and Human Development, said. “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.”

How soon Duranczyk and other U of M faculty get to vote depends on whether the school appeals the BMS ruling.

An appeal seems likely, as university administrators have made every attempt to derail the union-organizing election since faculty filed for representation in January – efforts that have focused mostly on dividing tenure and contingent faculty.

Last week the nonpartisan Minnesota Public Interest Research Group revealed documents obtained from the U of M showing over $500,000 of spending on outside legal counsel between January and June for services related to the organizing drive.

Even more egregious, faculty members, students and state lawmakers said, are annotations indicating the payments came out of funds the university collected from tuition-paying students and the Minnesota Legislature.

“I’m sure no one in the legislature – Democrat or Republican – intended for … 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,” Rep. Jim Davnie said.

U of M sophomore Jada Brown pointed out that Minnesotans, on average, have the 5th-highest student debt in the country, urging administrators “to spend money on our education, not on fighting the people who teach us every day.”

Paying high-priced attorneys to run out the clock on an organizing drive is a move straight out of the corporate anti-union playbook and, lecturer Jason Stahl said, yet another reason for faculty to seek a more powerful voice in university governance.

“We are building this union together to strengthen the voice of faculty on our campus for ourselves and our students,” Stahl said. “And we are confident that we will win our vote.”

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