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 (http://www.preservingexcellence.blogspot.com/).
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.