UO Administration Abandons Neutrality

UO faculty recently voted to organize a union for approximately 2,000 faculty of various ranks. The vote was conducted according to Oregon law, with faculty voting by signing cards stating their desire to form our union, United Academics; these cards were turned in to the Employment Relations Board (ERB). A majority of both tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty have asked for the union to be certified. The UO administration submitted its own list of who it deems to be eligible voters, which is a very haphazard list with multiple errors; but even by this list, a majority of both tenure- and non-tenure-track faculty have signed statements asking for recognition of the union.

The administration has abandoned its position of neutrality and hired two law firms to run an anti-union strategy aimed at denying employees’ union rights:

When we first announced our card-signing drive in January, the administration issued a formal statement declaring that University leaders “support the right of workers to organize and have maintained neutrality on the issue of a faculty union.” [i]

However, after it became clear that a majority of faculty voted to unionize, the administration changed its position. Rather than honoring the outcome of a democratic process, UO administrators now say that they’re opposed to the creation of our union, and have raised multiple legal objections aimed at delaying or thwarting certification of our union.

The administration has hired Sharon Rudnick of the law firm Harrang Long Gary Rudnick P.C. to advise them on strategies for preventing union certification. The administration has also hired the San Francisco-based anti-union firm Curiale Hirschfeld Kraemer LLP. Among other things, this firm runs seminars in “Maintaining Union Free Status” and is engaged in multiple efforts to deny employee bargaining rights, including a current effort at Pomona College in California, where the firm is engaged in blocking the organizing effort of college dining hall workers. [ii]

When asked about the UO’s previous commitment to remaining neutral and allowing faculty to decide for themselves the question of unionization, interim president Bob Berdahl told United Academics faculty representatives that he was personally never quoted as being neutral. [iii]

What are the administration’s objections to our union?

The UO administration filed multiple objections with the ERB, which seem designed to create a lengthy legal delay in union certification. In its filing and in conversation with faculty and union representatives, the administration raised two types of objections. First, it claimed that the work done by different types of faculty (all of whom are officially called “faculty” by the UO itself) is so distinct that they can’t be allowed to be together in one union. Secondly, the objections call into question the ability of most faculty to unionize by claiming that they are supervisors.

The administration’s letter to the ERB objected “to the inclusion in the proposed bargaining unit of tenure-related faculty (tenure-track and tenured); faculty of graduate and professional degree programs; emeritus and other retired faculty; visiting or guest faculty; adjunct and affiliate faculty; and postdoctoral scholars, research associates and fellows, because they lack a sufficient community of interest with the proposed unit.”

However, Oregon already has multiple precedents of all these types of faculty having union rights and being included in a single union. Specifically:

▪ The PSU faculty union – recognized for 30 years — includes: tenure-track faculty, non-tenure-track faculty, research assistants, research associates, lecturers, adjunct faculty, emeritus faculty, and faculty in graduate and professional degree programs.

▪ The Eastern OU union includes: full- and part-time tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty, visiting faculty, and librarians.

▪ Western OU union includes: tenure-track faculty, non-tenure-track faculty, adjunct professors, lecturers and instructors.

Why did UO faculty choose to include both tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty in our union?

There are three reasons for this. First, it is in keeping with Oregon law. The ERB requires that a union be based on “an acceptable bargaining unit” – i.e. some acceptable combination of people who plausibly share some “community of interest.” The ERB generally prefers broader and more inclusive unions, and our union is modeled on the unions at PSU, Western and Eastern Oregon Universities – all of which include tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty together.

Secondly, UO faculty believe that our union will be stronger and more effective if all faculty are joined together in a single union – both in terms of effective bargaining on campus and in terms of our ability to represent our interests in the legislature and the broader community.

Finally, we believe on principle that it is critical for both tenure-related and non-tenure-track faculty to work together in a single union. Over the past few decades, universities have “downsized,” meaning having less and less of the work done by tenure-track faculty and more and more by part-time, temporary and non-tenure-track faculty, who are paid less and lack the job security of tenured faculty. This has resulted in downgrading working conditions for both tenure- and non-tenure-track faculty. We all do the same kind of work – a combination of teaching and research – and we believe it is critical that we all work together to improve standards in the profession and the quality of education at the University.

How are UO administrators using public resources to undermine labor rights?

The administration uses public resources not only in hiring anti-union law firms, but also when it assigns UO personnel, whose salaries are partly paid by taxpayers, to devote time to undermining the rights of employees.

It is, of course, legitimate for administrators to disagree about what should be in a union contract. And it is legitimate to raise questions aimed at tweaking or clarifying the margins of how the bargaining unit is defined – for instance, exactly which visiting positions should be included, or similar questions that focus on legitimate gray areas in the law. But attempting to deny fundamental union rights to a group of faculty (such as tenure-track faculty) or seeking to overturn faculty members’ own choice to join together in a single union for tenure- and non-tenure-track faculty – when exactly such unions are already recognized at multiple campuses under Oregon law – is not a legitimately gray area of the law. This is using public resources to dishonor and attempt to thwart the labor rights of University employees.

Our hope is that the administration will abandon these anti-union legal strategies and agree to honor the results of a democratic process, and deal with faculty in good faith and with mutual respect.




[i] “U. of Oregon Faculty Seek to Unionize,” Inside Higher Ed, January 26, 2012. http://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2012/01/26/u-oregon-faculty-seek-unionize

[ii] For information on the Pomona situation, see http://www.workersforjustice.org/.

[iii] This conversation took place in a meeting with AFT representatives, union-side attorney (and adjunct Law School faculty member) Michael Tedesco, and several tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty; any of them can corroborate the comments made.


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