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Union experts advise faculty to organize during panel discussion



University union experts from around the country presented to a packed room of faculty and students yesterday afternoon in a panel discussion on how to fight back against what panelists referred to as a national funding crisis and attacks on public employees around the country.

“It’s always gotten worse than I thought it would be,” Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, said of his decade-long predictions that higher education was in danger. “This past year has gotten worse than I thought it would ever be.” @@Nelson: http://www.aaup.org/AAUP/about/pres/@@

Nelson was joined for the panel, which was sponsored by the University’s United Academics — a faculty committee working to unionize campus employees by three women at the forefront of their universities’ efforts to unionize and protest restrictions on bargaining rights. @@United Academics: http://or.aft.org/000070/@@

Darci Thoune, an English professor at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, discussed the events leading up to Wisconsin’s budget reform bill that ended collective bargaining rights for state employees and sparked massive protests across the state. @@http://lacrossetribune.com/news/article_a9f534c6-3b20-11e0-9d82-001cc4c002e0.html@@

“If we can do it, anyone can,” Thoune said of her university faculty’s move to organize a union months prior to the bill’s proposal and their participation in the ensuing activism against it.

Michelle Fecteau, executive director of Wayne State University’s faculty union, spoke on the importance of an already established union for her university when it faced massive budget cuts and investigation from the Michigan state legislature this year. @@http://www.spoke.com/info/pWpJgdt/MichelleFecteau@@

“If it wasn’t for them taking that action back then we wouldn’t have what we have today,” Fecteau said of her university’s union, which is currently in a legal battle against requests for access to the university’s email database on suspicion that faculty is engaged in political activism against the majority Republican state politicians.

Emily Plec, president of Western Oregon University Federation of Teachers, brought the message of her fellow panelists home to Oregon. @@www.oregon.gov/ERB/CasesFiled/UP06610.pdf@@

“Oregon really is a battleground state,” Plec said. The threats facing Michigan and Wisconsin, Plec said, “are not far at all.”

Using their own personal stories of organizing their universities and fighting back against their state political structure, all the panelists presented similar messages to faculty.

“It’s a real battle and if you’re not in it now, you may be in it at anytime,” Plec said of the issues universities are facing around the country.

And to prepare, Plec and others advised getting organized.

In the aftermath of the Wisconsin protests, Thoune described that La Crosse’s faculty voted to unionize officially and created a formalized constitution committee in February — an achievement that she assured faculty was noteworthy enough.

“Regardless of whether our collective bargaining rights are taken from us, we’re still a union,” Thoune said. “And it’s important to be part of a union.”

“You can only go up from here,” Nelson said in his presentation, referring to University faculty salaries — some of the lowest in the nation. It’s time, Nelson said, “to restore shared governance and dignity to this campus.”

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