Road to faculty union more turbulent than expected

United Academics, the group looking to unionize the University’s faculty, encountered a roadblock yesterday afternoon when the University administration announced objections to the proposed bargaining unit that was submitted to the Oregon Employment Relations Board. @@

The discrepancy involves those who want two separate bargaining units for non-tenure-track faculty and tenure-track faculty, and those who believe one bargaining unit is in the best interest of the faculty as a whole. The administration objects that TTF should not be included in the bargaining unit along with a list of other faculty and employees.

“The work these groups do is rather different, and their economic interests also differ: for that reason, assembling them into the same bargaining unit doesn’t makes sense,” mathematics professor Hal Sadofsky said. “From the point of view of the tenure-related faculty, this is especially problematic because the way United Academics has structured the bargaining unit, the tenure-related faculty will be a minority.” @@*[email protected]@

In response to these concerns, some faculty have come together to sign a petition to request a secret ballot vote to determine if the ERB should certify the union as the exclusive bargaining representative for faculty. The petition needs 30 percent (approximately 600 votes) of the proposed bargaining unit to sign in order to be considered by the ERB and is currently at 480-plus signatures.

“A single, malformed bargaining unit within which I am part of a minority perspective is my least-desirable outcome,” economics professor Glen Waddell said. “Should TTFs organize alone? If the only alternative is for us to be joined with NTTFs in a single bargaining unit, then we most definitely should.” @@[email protected]@

Union organizers argue that the two groups interests are not that different and that there is a history of the ERB ruling in favor of a single bargaining unit. Philosophy professor Scott Pratt said that splitting the bargaining unit would dramatically decrease the power of the union. @@*[email protected]@

“We think that the bargaining unit that we submitted is consistent with labor law and precedent,” Pratt said.

NTTF instructor and United Academics organizer Deborah Olson thinks that there should be one bargaining unit including both NTTF and TTF. @@[email protected]@

“In our state there’s more of a tradition of wall-to-wall bargaining units instead of splitting off into a bunch of separate units,” Olson said. “I believe we have a shared common interest across tenure and non-tenure because we have the same concerns about academic and research excellence.”

Architecture professor Peter Keyes also believes that it should be one, but he said that he didn’t always think so. @@*[email protected]@

“Originally it made sense to me to think there should be two separate units,” Keyes said. “The more I thought about it and the more I have worked with NTTF on the organizing committee, I’ve come to see just how often are interests are aligned and how many more things in common we have than divergence of interest.”

The next step will be for the ERB to decide whether or not to proceed with the proposed bargaining unit, or send it back to the drawing board for further consideration from faculty stakeholders. In a statement from Interim President Robert Berdahl, he explained his concern for preserving the University’s standard of excellence in its faculty no matter the result of the ERB’s decision. @@*[email protected]@

“Whatever the outcome of the ERB proceedings, the University’s goal remains the same: to maintain a strong relationship with those who contribute to the University in all of its endeavors — especially in its core mission of teaching, research and public service,” Berdahl said.

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Sam Stites

Sam Stites