Guest Commentary: Faculty support for union not as clear-cut as claimed

Guest Commentary: Faculty support for union not as clear-cut as claimed

In January 2014, union organizers on the Urbana campus distributed a glossy brochure entitled, "We Support the Faculty Union" (sic: there is no faculty union).

It included a number of featured advocates and testimonials, and on the inside cover listed about 700 names in fine print.

In early February, Campus Faculty Association held a public event at which they claimed that they were "very close" to having support from a majority of faculty.

A News-Gazette article about the event cited CFA spokeswoman Susan Davis:

The group has been asking faculty to sign a statement of support over the past year. Davis wouldn't disclose numbers but said the group has won commitments from "very close to a majority" of the about 1,800 tenure-track and nontenure-track faculty it believes could be part of a bargaining unit.

How can we evaluate this claim? The CFA has been asked in the Senate for clarification about the numbers they are claiming, and they have provided none. Given the close timing between their distribution of the brochure and their announcement, we only have the names listed in the brochure as evidence of their support. (You can debate whether 700 is "very close" to a majority of 1,800.)

But even the list of 700 who supposedly support a faculty union includes a significant number of errors.

First, the CFA has said that colleagues are being asked to sign the CFA "mission statement." But this cannot be counted as indicating support for a faculty union. The word "union" does not even appear in the mission statement. A number of people have reported to us that, when CFA and state and national union representatives visited them in their offices, they were told that signing the mission statement indicated only that they thought the option of forming a faculty union was worth exploring. They signed the statement to indicate that they had an open mind about the issue, but had not made a decision, much less a commitment.

To count these people as supporters or to claim their numbers as a predictor of who would actually sign a legally binding union card is misleading — and it raises the question once again of what is actually being said and promised to people in these closed-door office visits.

Second, the CFA list of names includes many emeritus faculty, other retirees, and non-tenure-track faculty who would not be eligible to vote in a card campaign to establish a tenure-track faculty union. These people may support the establishment of a faculty union, but they cannot be counted as evidence for the claim that organizers are very close to a majority of voters.

Third, considering the Davis quote more closely raises the question of whether organizers would be combining tenure-track and non-tenure track voters in order to reach a majority. There are around 1,800 tenure-track faculty in the proposed bargaining unit (which does not include faculty in Law and Veterinary Medicine). A state appeals court has ruled that non-tenure track faculty would have to be organized in a separate potential bargaining unit. Tenure-track faculty members cannot sign cards for a non-tenure-track bargaining unit, nor vice-versa. The figure of 1,800 Davis is reported to be basing her calculations on cannot refer to "a bargaining unit" that contains both tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty members.

Fourth, we have heard from a number of colleagues who have told us that they never gave permission for their names to be included in the brochure, and who do not support establishing a union.

In fact, there are at least 16 names claimed on CFA's list as supporters who have signed our statement opposing a faculty union, which in just a few weeks has grown to over 300 signatures and counting (

Considering all this evidence, it is clear that the CFA has done a very poor job of checking whether the names they claim as supporters actually are supporters who would be willing and eligible to sign a union card.

The fact that they are claiming supporters who are clearly not supporters and blurring the legal requirement that they have to achieve two separate majorities, one for a tenure-track campaign and one for a non-tenure-track campaign, does not bode well for how carefully they would manage a card campaign, if they ever held one.

Nick Burbules and Joyce Tolliver, current members of the UI faculty, each are past leaders of the campus academic Senate.

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Sid Saltfork wrote on March 31, 2014 at 12:03 pm

Enough signed cards will call for a vote to form a union.  The employee who signs a card is only calling for a vote.  The name of the signer should remain confidential in order to protect that individual from intimidation including "black listing".  For all of the education accumulated, it is sad to see academics not understanding collective bargaining.  The paranoia being exhibited by those opposed to a vote including a listing of those who signed a card should offer a cue regarding the need for an election.  Why so much fear from the established, and tenured academics?

Mike wrote on March 31, 2014 at 10:03 pm

So a pro-union organization comes to me, and asks me if, I don't know, I think that it would be fair for people to like or dislike ice cream, and I say "sure, I can agree with that" and then they publish my name in a list of "pro-union faculty"--that's cool? 

I get your hating of everything to do with academics, but this faculty union stuff is shady business. The pro-union people play dirty pool, and they always have. Here you have a clear-cut example of people who DON'T support a faculty union having their names misleadingly listed in a pro-union document. I don't care whether you are pro-union or anti-union--that's reprehensible. 

We've crossed the line between pro- and anti-union and gone straight into "cheating." 

Sid Saltfork wrote on April 01, 2014 at 1:04 pm

Read the card that you signed.  If you did not read it, you may have not bothered with it.  Union cards are signed to request a vote.  Some people may have signed it without any concern whether their name was released, or not.  Others may have signed it, but wanted to stay anonymous.  Others did not sign it, but want the names of those who did sign it.  If you signed it, your asking that the matter be pushed forward. 

A union is made up of members.  It is not some mafia like organization where others take the heat for secret members.  If your not willing to have your name go public; chances are that you are not willing to demonstrate, or negotiate.  It comes down to "Oh, I want collective bargaining; but I want someone else to do it for me." 

It seems that both sides are paranoid.  One group does not want their names published.  The other group wants the names published.  Of course; no arm twisting, or blacklisting would happen in academia.  Maybe, another "committee" should be formed?  For an occupation that prides itself in social justice; academia seems shallow when it comes to collective bargaining.

I do not "hate" everything to do with academia.  I do find it archaic; and contrary to all other employment.  One group of academics is very well paid for research, and grants.  Another group is well paid for administrating.  Another group is not as well paid for teaching.  Sub groups such as un-tenured, and never to be tenured are not well paid.  It is a stratified society.  The caste system in India has less categories.  All of the groups expect privileges associated with their rank beyond salary.  Perhaps, the solution is to solely use individual employment contracts; and hold the academic state employees responsible for their work outcomes, and employment related expenses.  The public are slowly looking at areas of waste due to governmental finances.  Their gaze is starting to turn toward academia.  The 18th Century is over.  It is time to punch the clock, and show results for continued funding.

At least Mike, you were not mowing your yard around the time you commented. :)