Appeals Court Squashes New U of M Union Attempt

Court Overturns ruling by Bureau of Mediation Services

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University, Minnesota,
University of Minnesota entrance. Image by Wikimedia Commons user AlexiusHoratius. [https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:University_of_Minnesota_entrance_sign_1.jpg]

ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Court of Appeals hit both unions and the Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS) hard on Tuesday with its decision to not allow the formation of a new bargaining unit at the University of Minnesota.

In the ruling on Tuesday the court decided that the BMS lacked the “authority to reassign employee classifications to bargaining units unless those classifications have been significantly modified.”

The ruling directly contradicted an earlier ruling by the BMS which ruled in favor of the unions efforts to get lecturers, senior lecturers, teaching specialists, and senior teaching specialists classified under bargaining Unit 8, the Instructional Unit. In part, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 284 supports this change because they feel the instructional unit better represents the community of interest of the employees in question. This change in the bargaining unit would also give these positions more bargaining power, theoretically making it easier for them to get pay raises and secure tenure. For the university administration, this sort of relationship would result in a large monetary loss.

Minnesota Academics United, a union made up of workers at the University of Minnesota, said in a press release:

“We are disappointed that the Court of Appeals overruled the Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS). We believe that the Commissioner’s decision was the more accurate assessment of faculty labor on our campus, a decision reached based on a thorough and thoughtful process including meetings of the parties, lengthy hearings, and extensive legal arguments. We stand firm in our belief that contingent faculty and tenure-track faculty necessarily share a community of interest. The university administration’s position is driven by backwards priorities that value administrative prerogatives over intellectual excellence and student learning.”

On the other hand, U of M Faculty Excellence (UMFE) laid out clearly four points as to why unionization at the University of Minnesota is not a good idea. The first point was that unionization of the faculty under the SEIU would hurt UMN’s ability to hire quality faculty, as top faculty members have been shown to be against unionization, according to a University of Washington study. The second point refutes Minnesota Academics United’s contention that the faculty position in question should be grouped under Unit 8, explaining that these faculty positions don’t have the explicit research  requirement of full time professors. UMFE does, however sympathize with some of the contractual problems faced by the groups in question.

The third point is that pay raises would not be guaranteed but the need to pay union dues would be. The fourth point raised was that SEIU was not the kind of union that would best represent the faculty at UMN, as it historically has been a service industry union, and is not present at any other major research university.

The court cited directly from the Public Employment Labor Relations Act (PERLA) in making their decision to overrule. The court found that the “occupational job content of these employees have not been significantly modified,” which was sole grounds by which PERLA would have allowed a change in the bargaining unit, as the language in PERLA explicitly lays out which positions under discussion are classified in Unit 11 instead of Unit 8.

In overturning the decision by the BMS, the court made clear that the BMS “lacked statutory authority” to make the decision it did. This may in turn deter unions from pursuing this tactic in the future.

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