Q&A: Forming a Faculty Union

Q. Why are UW faculty forming a Union?

A. We are forming a union because we want faculty to have a stronger voice in shaping our University’s direction and priorities, our working conditions, and the future of higher education. By joining a national union, we can participate more effectively in wider efforts to defend the values of public higher education, values that are under attack and erosion, here and nationwide. A union will also strengthen the faculty voice in Olympia to secure adequate funding for the University of Washington.  Organizing a union can reinforce university governance and give us a greater voice on research funding, community connections, teaching resources, and tenure lines. For the increasing percentage of faculty who are part-time and non-tenured, that means securing decent pay, job security and a career ladder, and access to basic support for research and scholarship.
With our union, we can advocate on workplace issues that deeply affect both our welfare and our ability to be excellent teachers and productive scholars: salaries, health and retirement benefits, teaching loads, sabbatical and leave policies, and the number of tenure-track positions.

Q. Who is the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)? Why SEIU?

A. SEIU, one of the largest education unions in the country, represents contingent faculty at schools including Tufts, Boston University, University of Chicago, Georgetown, George Washington, and both tenure track and non-tenure track faculty in the California State system. Faculty at the University of Minnesota, a state university similar in mission and size to the UW, are in the process of forming a union with SEIU.  In Washington State, SEIU 925 represents faculty at Antioch University and Seattle University, as well as the classified staff at the UW.

SEIU unites 2 million members across the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico. The existing strength of SEIU in Washington State, with more than 100,000 members, means that we would immediately attain a major voice in state politics and higher education legislation.

Q. What is the role of the UW AAUP Chapter?

A. The UW has had a chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) since 1918, three years after the founding of the national AAUP. Thanks to the AAUP, academic freedom is recognized as a fundamental principle of our profession. Nonetheless, this principle is being significantly eroded with the decline in tenure-track positions. The UW AAUP Chapter voted to support the unionization campaign and welcomes the national and statewide resources that SEIU brings to UW faculty.  In taking that stand, AAUP adopted a number of principles to guide faculty participation in the union drive, including keeping faculty in the driver’s seat of the campaign, keeping academic freedom front and center, ensuring participation by faculty in all ranks and categories, and maintaining a collaborative spirit across all pro-faculty groups, including AAUP.

Q. Who will be in charge of our union?

A. SEIU contributes staff time and expertise to a faculty-governed process. . Faculty union members can help govern and shape our union through issue surveys, union committees, and serving as elected union officers. In the event of collective bargaining, faculty will elect the bargaining team to negotiate our union contract.  Any proposed contract must be ratified by a majority vote of affected faculty.

Q. Who will be part of the union?

A: Prior to collective bargaining, any UW faculty member can voluntarily join the union. In the event of a vote on collective bargaining, conducted by the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC), all UW faculty (excluding clinical faculty) will vote in a single union election regardless of title, status, department or campus and will be covered by an over-arching union contract. It is not currently permissible to separate colleges or schools from the overall group. While acknowledging our enormous diversity across professional and disciplinary boundaries, uniting in a single faculty union presents us with a huge opportunity to find common ground and strengthen all aspects of the UW’s mission

Q. Does a union make sense for professionals like us?

A. In Washington State, tenure-line faculty at all the regional public universities have unionized, including Central Washington University, Eastern Washington University, Western Washington University, and Evergreen State College. Faculty at Antioch University and Seattle University have also formed unions. Around the country, prestigious colleges and universities from Rutgers and University of Massachusetts in the East to the University of Oregon, Portland State University, and the California State system in the West have faculty unions to ensure faculty a stronger voice both in their institutions and in their state legislatures.

Q. What’s the process of forming a union?

A. A union is simply a group of employees who come together to accomplish things they cannot accomplish alone. At any time, UW faculty can voluntarily join SEIU 925, at reduced union dues, and immediately unite with tens of thousands of faculty and other education employees across Washington State and the nation who advocate for quality, affordable and accessible education.

We are also pursuing a goal of collective bargaining with UW administration. Once enough faculty have signed and returned confidential union Membership Card and Authorization forms (at least 30%), that will trigger a secret-ballot election conducted by PERC. If there are more yes votes than no votes, then we win, and our collective bargaining unit is formed.

Q. What will a union mean for faculty governance?

A. The collective power of a union can strengthen shared governance. Like other independent faculty organizations, we will advocate for our views within the Faculty Senate and seek to partner with faculty governance wherever possible. By belonging to SEIU, we can facilitate collaboration between the Faculty Senate and a politically powerful Labor Movement to achieve common goals, such as a faculty member on the Board of Regents. We will also expand the circle of faculty engaged in academic life to include part-time faculty who have no voice in faculty governance.

Under collective bargaining, the Faculty Senate typically governs academic issues, while the union works on workplace/employment issues. Union members have frequently used the power of their union to protect faculty voice in academic governance.

Q. How will the administration respond?

A. Unfortunately, UW administration has decided to actively oppose our union, including the expenditure of tens of thousands of dollars on anti-union lawyers and communications consultants. Regardless of the Administration’s response, our union activity is protected by the law and the strength of our numbers. The Public Employment Labor Relations Act prohibits an employer from threatening us for supporting a union, interrogating us about union activity, promising any benefit for voting ‘no’ or engaging in surveillance of any union activity (meetings, events, email, etc.).

Q. How much will dues be? What will dues be used for?

A. Union dues are an important part of how we build a strong organization and define who is an official member of the union. Prior to collective bargaining, faculty members of SEIU Local 925 pay reduced dues on a sliding scale of $10 - $25 per month.  This gives them full democratic rights and voice within the union. If and when we win collective bargaining and negotiate and ratify a union contract, full union dues are 1.7% of our gross salaries up to a cap of $95 per month. Dues rates are set by a democratic vote of members of SEIU Local 925.

Importantly, no one pays full union dues until we have: 1) voted to form our union; 2) bargained our first contract; and 3) voted as a group to approve our contract. In other words, we will not pay any money before we know exactly what gains we’ve achieved through bargaining. We will decide whether our first contract is worth it.

Q. What is SEIU COPE (Committee on Political Education)?

A. COPE is the voluntary vehicle within SEIU by which union members affect laws that impact our lives. The law requires unions to collect, spend and report political money in specific ways, but it is a crucial part of winning progressive revenue solutions and adequately funding education and social services.

The focus of COPE and our local political action work is electing reasonable people to executive and legislative offices who will stand up for working people. Your voluntary involvement and contribution are essential in making this an effective program.

All UW photographs by Curtis Cronn and subject to CC-licenses as indicated on Flickr

Created with NationBuilder