The effort to form a faculty union at the University of Minnesota moved forward Tuesday with a ruling by the state Bureau of Mediation Services affirming that 1,500 tenure-track and 1,000 contingent faculty should be in one bargaining unit.
Supporters of MN Academics United, an affiliate of Service Employees International Union Local 284, had sought to keep the groups together. The move sets the stage for a union election later this fall, organizers said. No date has been set yet.
“I am pleased with the state’s decision to allow contingent faculty like me the opportunity to gain a stronger voice at the university by forming a union with our tenure-track colleagues,” said Jason Stahl, a lecturer in the Department of Organizational Leadership and Policy Development. “We are building this union together to strengthen the voice of faculty on our campus for ourselves and our students, and we are confident that we will win our vote.”
Tenure-track faculty and contingent faculty filed for an election in January to form one union on the Twin Cities campus. The university’s central administration objected, delaying the union vote for several months. BMS held hearings in late April and early May to determine the proper bargaining unit for contract faculty positions like lecturers and teaching specialists.
The Bureau of Mediation Services ruled that there is “strong evidence demonstrating significant community of interest” between the two groups, making it appropriate for them to be in one unit for the purposes of collective bargaining.
“As the university’s administration has increased the number and ratio of non-tenure-line positions, the fates of all faculty are increasingly intertwined,” said Irene Duranczyk, an associate professor in the College of Education and Human Development. “We believe that the precarious working conditions under which contingent faculty labor are not only bad for them but also bad for students and bad for us, the remaining tenure-line faculty.”
If the organizing campaign succeeds, Minnesota would be one of the largest single-campus faculty unions in the country.
The state’s decision on the bargaining unit comes less than a week after the university’s student newspaper, the Minnesota Daily, broke the news that administrators had spent more than $515,000 of state taxpayer and tuition money in the effort to stop a faculty union. The funds, spent between March and mid-July of this year, were paid to an outside law firm — Fredrikson & Byron — a legal counsel the university continues to work with, the Daily reported.
Hours after the Daily published its report, university officials contacted the paper to state they would ensure no tuition, state or federal funds were used to pay any legal fees incurred during their continued battle with faculty union advocates in court. Interim Vice President and CFO Michael Volna told the newspaper he was “unsure why money was pulled from that account to cover the costs of the fees.”