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UO Union Effort Hits Resistance

The UO neither supports nor opposes the efforts of its faculty to unionize, a spokesperson says. It just objects to the all-encompassing and overlapping categories of tenured professors, tenure-track professors, adjunct instructors, faculty of graduate and professional degree programs, emeritus faculty, postdoctoral scholars, research associates and fellows, visiting faculty and supervisory employees as parts of the same union.

United Academics of the University of Oregon (UAUO) submitted signed union authorization cards (a card is a vote to form a union) to the Oregon Employment Relations Board March 13, and UO filed a petition objecting to the proposed union April 4. The petition states that the various types of faculty “lack a sufficient community of interest with the proposed unit.”

Regina Psaki, a UO professor of romance languages, says she thinks the issue isn’t about what the UO believes is or isn’t a community interest. “I don’t think they think we have the right or prerogative to decide to have a union at all, given the nature of their list,” she says.

“They basically dismissed the entire proposal and claimed that none of the various types of employees included in the bargaining unit are eligible,” agrees English professor Gordon Sayre.

“We have almost everything in common,” Psaki says. “Despite the fact that we have different job descriptions, our interests are so overwhelmingly similar that we belong in the same union.” Psaki says that all the faculty have the interest of keeping the academic core strong through the instructional and research mission of the university, and part of that is keeping professors from leaving for better working conditions.

Sayre stresses that those faculty working conditions are learning conditions for students. He says policies that assign non-tenure-track faculty more students than they can teach or grade means performance will suffer. “We need to emphasize that students can get a better learning experience if their instructors and faculty have better working conditions,” he says.

Jim Salt, who teaches sociology at LCC, says the faculty in its union hasn’t had significant problems incorporating different types of staff into its union. Lane Community College Education Association includes full- and part-time contracted faculty plus professionals such as librarians and counselors who teach but devote more hours to other work.

LCCEA president Salt says that management often tries to divide different sectors of the work force by creating artificial differences or exaggerating minor differences, but faculty has more in common than not. “You’re all doing very similar work, you have similar issues being negotiated in the contract,” he says.

One way that the UO’s proposed union is considering preventing any real conflicts of interest is by having the tenure-related and non-tenure-related groups caucus and then reach consensus on major issues. “I think the advantage of that setup is that it resolves questions that some people have posed about whether the tenure-related faculty would dominate the leadership of the union because they are more used to performing service functions or whether the non-tenure-track faculty would dominate union because there more of them,” Sayre says.

When the union organizing process began, the UO pledged to remain neutral, and UO spokesperson Julie Brown says that despite the petition against the proposed union there has been no change from that position. “While we neither supported nor opposed union organizing efforts, we now have a responsibility to all the constituents we serve to advocate before the Employment Relations Board for a bargaining unit that is consistent with the university’s mission and core objectives,” Brown says in an email to EW.

The ERB will hear the UO’s petition challinging the union beginning at 9 am three days, May 7-9, in the ERB offices in Salem.

“I think we might have a long fight and court battle to come,” predicts Sayre.