I Would Join a Faculty Union But…


Tenth and final reflection in a series on public/private higher education

Public universities are a reflection of the state in which they exist.  State Senator Brady’s idea for private non-profit university boards would influence the relationship between faculty unions and universities in our state.

I would join a faculty union, but I have heartfelt and sincere apprehensions.

One:  My dues might be used to support causes that I don’t.  Resources earned by the sweat of my brow are mine.  Nobody, nor any organization; not a church, not a union, not an employer, not a bank should direct my earnings.  National Education Association and its affiliates spent nearly $30 million on elections last cycle, ranking 4th of 16,875 registered organizations. Spending against Democratic candidates was zero while $4.9 million was used against Republican candidates, according to Open Secrets.  Union resources used for anything other than vocational excellence are of little interest to me regardless of partisan leanings in any direction.

Two:  Breast implants, liposuction, and other forms of “improvement” are bargained for by unions.  This is offensive in teachers unions, such as the one in Buffalo, NY, that paid $5.4 million for such galling silliness in 2014. Even if a local bargained for it and a misguided school board signed on, the Buffalo Teachers Federation leadership should object to folly.  Focus on student interests.

Three:  Education and training to improve my craft are scarce.  A Wisconsin leader claims that 95% of training expenditures comes from employers pockets. Some faculty unions abhor training.  For example, training members on effective teaching, student counseling, scholarly effectiveness, are nonexistent.  A workers guild, association, or union without training is a lobbying enterprise, not an instrument of craft.

Four:  Union executives are paid too much too quietly.   Gerald McEntee brought home $1,121,988 in 2013 when President of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.  Public service unions including faculty and teachers should willingly publish compensation to each member and executive.

Five:  I should be fairly compensated for the quality of work produced.  Merit pay should be a required component of compensation adjustments.  The argument that there will be favoritism is true but hollow.  Equal treatment regardless of effectiveness favors and protects incompetence.  If management favors lackeys over productive workers, management should be replaced rather than meritorious workers punished.

Six:  Incompetence in my craft should not be protected through groundless grievances.  Some people in any job, public or private, leader or rank and file, are unproductive and should be redressed.  Faculty tenure is critical but demeaned when laziness or incompetence is protected by it.

Seven:  My membership must be voluntary.  I should never be forced to join any organization, or coerced by law or peer pressure to join something or support I chose not to, even when I am only required to pay my “Fair Share” of the cost of bargaining. Firewalls between organizational interests are impossible to construct. And, fair to whom?  I want to personally select who represents my interests; when, where, and how.

Eight:  State and federal labor laws — The Fair Labor Standards Act, Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA), child labor laws, and overtime — are a few essential elements of a fair workplace that are the direct result of labor unions and now codified in the law of the land.  Protection from abuse by systems filled with cronyism, patronage, and favoritism is needed, but I am not convinced that faculty unions provide it.

Nine:  Voting results on every aspect of union business should be made public, including the number of members represented, those eligible to vote, and the ratio of paying members to represented workers.  Who voted how is unimportant.  The magnitude of commitment is vital.

Ten:  A no-strike clause would have to be present in the contract. My first professional contract is with the student; they pay the freight and no-one else.  A 21st university is not a coal mine, a craft shop, or a shirtwaist factory, and will never become one.   A university serves students, not profits. A public university is government.  FDR  and George Meany, former president of the A.F.L. – C.I.O believed unions of government workers unsound.   There are no profits to be shared, only tax dollars to be spent.

Twenty-first century faculty unions can and should celebrate individual passion and the quality of work produced in response to mission, but it takes a commitment to academic excellence and purpose, and nothing else.

Photo from Drake University

One thought on “I Would Join a Faculty Union But…

  1. Why Unions Are Necessary.

    1&2. Full agreement but only concerning the NEA. That body is mostly a K-12 and community college orientated group as opposed to the AAUP which really should represent any university. As far as SIUC is concerned, it has proven to be a “finishing school” for certain faculty wishing to join higher administration!

    3. Good point.

    4. So are higher administrators who are really responsible for the decline in student services and the exploitation of adjunct faculty, 75% of whom now dominate higher education with no hope of tenure or health benefits.

    5. Yes.

    6. No argument here since I’m a strong believer in post-tenure evaluation as long as it involves productivity and effective teaching with opportunities for those found wanting to improve. This relates to #3.

    7. Since a Union negotiates on behalf of all faculty whether in a union or not it is only fair that those outside contribute some “fair share” for a body gaining benefits for everyone. “There is no free lunch in America” and you pay taxes whether you like it or not. This is the same thing and you should not benefit if other people are doing the work for you. It is little better than “panhandling.”

    8. Were it not for the efforts of more honest members of a certain faculty union, this institution would have deported me nine years ago although they have not the powers of Homeland Security. Also, unions are necessary when higher administration openly breaks the laws of this country operating in a manner akin to medieval fiefdoms.

    9. However, secret ballots are also necessary if only to protect members from retaliation.

    10. But should not administrators also sign a clause stating that they will not engage in unfair practices during negotiations as the Illinois Labor Board found concerning the activities of the previous administration. Faculty are now falling into the category of unskilled workers with administration attempting to remove safeguards such as tenure and professional respect as you well know from recent events. A strike is a method of last resort as was proved a few years ago when the administration provoked the first (and hopefully, last) strike on this campus

    Full agreement on final sentence.

    This is part of our esteemed moderator’s weekly debates on privatizing higher education and I don’t want to take up more space. But I am loath to change one system for another when corporate bodies such as the Koch Brothers take over higher education to instill conformity and process minds into accepting the imminent movement towards World War Three. The market simply does not work as the experience of Reaganism and its successors reveal.

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