Friday, June 21, 2024

Union of Tenure Stream Faculty still awaiting voluntary recognition from MSU, says university is stalling process

April 12, 2024
MSU president Kevin Guskiewicz and other trustees listen carefully to a research presentation during a Board of Trustees meeting at the Hannah Administration Building on April 12, 2024.
MSU president Kevin Guskiewicz and other trustees listen carefully to a research presentation during a Board of Trustees meeting at the Hannah Administration Building on April 12, 2024.

At Friday's board meeting, several public commenters called on the university to voluntarily recognize the Union of Tenure Stream Faculty. They argued that the university is stalling in providing a list of all faculty members it considers part of the bargaining unit, which is needed to move forward with negotiations. 

"This unproductive stalling needs to end now, MSU," neuroscience professor Caryl Sortwell, said during public comment. 

The union organizers also argued the university has attempted to exclude librarians from the bargaining unit.

"The university administration … is refusing to include librarians in the bargaining unit, despite their being listed as faculty in the faculty handbook and (in my opinion) deliberately slowing down the negotiations process in defiance if (sic) the Trustees' resolution and demands for good faith negotiations," union organizer NiCole Buchanan said in a statement to The State News on Thursday.

MSU student David Hogan used his public comment to call on the university to include librarians.

"As a student I would be remiss not to speak about the impact librarians have on our community," Hogan said. "One of the courses I took last year had our class take multiple trips to the library in order to learn about researching processes, databases, and many other methods and resources, which have enabled me to progress my capacities as a student."

Board chair Dan Kelly did not say if the university plans to include librarians in the bargaining unit list. 

"It is a topic of discussion, and the team from the university is actively discussing (it)," Kelly said during media availability after the meeting. "There are issues with regard to whether or not all groups are the same, and they're working with them on that, so I'm hopeful that they come to a mutual agreement on it."

The union first launched its campaign in November in hopes of giving faculty more power in administrative decision-making.

During her public comment, Buchanan said the university has given "asinine excuse after asinine excuse" in not providing the bargaining unit list.

Kelly said, "I don't think there's a timeline" for providing the bargaining unit list. 

"I know (it) is a complicated issue that the provost is working very hard on," Kelly said. 

The university stalling is a violation of the board's policy governing unionization, which requires the university to stay neutral on any organizing effort, Buchanan argued.

Kelly voted against that policy in 2021 but told The State News that as board chair, he would honor it. 

At the time, Republican trustees argued that the policy would "muzzle" the administration from providing information to union organizers.

Buchanan called on the board to communicate the purpose of that policy to the administration. 

"I stand here today with a request that you help MSU administration interpret the policy as you intended, that you express the outrage that I can only imagine that you feel for their contempt for your verbal and written commitments, and you define what you believe cooperation should look like from them," Buchanan said. 

Union organizers have long argued that the policy, which was passed along party lines in 2021, puts the university in a unique position to swiftly recognize unions. 

Before that resolution, unions would have to go through the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, which would administer an election as long as the union could prove it had 30% support among the bargaining unit.

But MSU's 2021 board resolution allows unions to bypass that certification route and instead receive voluntary recognition from the university. 

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The only condition is it must prove it has 50% support among the bargaining unit. 

The union announced it had reached that threshold in December.

History professor Sean Forner said MSU's voluntary recognition process is "more democratic" than having an election administered by MERC.

"Historically, though, employers have been more likely to insist on an election overseen by an outside agency," Forner said. "Now, one reason for that is that such elections do provide good opportunities to derail union efforts in both legal and illegal ways."

Associated Students of MSU President Emily Hoyumpa also voiced support for the union during the student liaison report. 

"I genuinely believe our faculty are unlike any other, and their union should be recognized by the university," she said. "Our faculty are the reasons Spartans find their passions through our education. At least for me, I would not have made it through the challenges of this year without the faculty here, so I feel like the least we can do is support the UTSF, right?"

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