After a lengthy organizing push, faculty members at Oregon State University now have a union.
The Oregon Employment Relations Board announced on Wednesday that United Academics of Oregon State University has been certified as the exclusive bargaining representative for teaching and research faculty at OSU.
Union organizers filed a petition with the state agency on June 5, along with authorization cards signed by hundreds of faculty members. The board determined that there were valid signatures from a majority of the proposed bargaining unit, the legal requirement for certification.
“It’s been years in the making, but it’s very gratifying to know that we’ve been successful and we’re on our way,” said Kathleen Stanley, a senior instructor in sociology who helped organize the new union.
“We will have a seat at the table now.”
There are roughly 2,400 people in the bargaining unit, which includes virtually all of the university’s teaching and research faculty, from post-doctoral employees and contingent faculty to tenured and tenure-track professors.
In addition to faculty at OSU's main Corvallis campus, the union also will represent those who work online, at the Bend and Newport satellite campuses or elsewhere in the state through programs such as the Extension Service.
Department heads and other managers are excluded, of course. Also left out is a large group of workers that OSU calls “professional faculty,” made up of administrative employees, counselors, information technology specialists, marketing and communications staff and others.
Five of the state’s eight public universities already had faculty unions, including Portland State and the University of Oregon. Classified workers and graduate student employees at OSU have been unionized for years.
The new union is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors.
Now that United Academics of OSU has been certified, Stanley said, there’s more work to be done, including creating an organizational structure, adopting a constitution and bylaws, electing officers and beginning the process of bargaining the union’s first contract, which will likely take at least a year. A faculty survey will be done to set priorities for bargaining.
Also in the works: a membership drive.
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“We need as many people as possible” to join the union, Stanley said.
That will be especially important in light of Wednesday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision. In a case known as Janus v. AFSCME, the justices ruled 5-4 that public sector unions cannot force members of the bargaining unit who don’t join the union to pay partial dues to cover the cost of collective bargaining. The ruling strikes down laws in 22 states, including Oregon, that allow unions to collect so-called “fair share” fees.
But Dan Andersen, a political science instructor who helped organize United Academics of OSU, said he’s not worried.
“I'm not expecting there to be a major impact,” Andersen told the Gazette-Times.
“Faculty have been organizing with their colleagues and building support for card-check certification. They will be able to carry this into a strong, inclusive and active local with robust membership.”
The certification effort succeeded despite opposition from some faculty members.
Frederick Kamke, a professor in the College of Forestry, filed a formal objection with the state, but the Employment Relations Board determined Kamke failed to cite an adequate legal basis for a hearing.
And associate professor of business Keith Leavitt, who created a website to focus opposition to the organizing effort because of what he called the undemocratic nature of the card-check process, filed a petition with the board in an effort to force a vote on union certification. He collected almost 700 signatures but fell short of the necessary 30 percent of bargaining unit members.
Leavitt told the Gazette-Times he’s not ideologically opposed to unions but would have preferred an election. The fact that more than 600 people signed his petition should prompt union leaders to do some fence-mending, he said, but since he fell short of the 30 percent needed to force an election, he’s prepared to live with the results.
“We didn’t get there, which to me says a lot of my colleagues are not concerned about the card-check process,” Leavitt said. “And if that’s the case, I’m fine with it.”
OSU administrators have not said much about the organizing effort up to this point, in part because state labor laws restrict what management can say during a unionization drive. On Wednesday, however, the university’s chief spokesman issued a statement pledging to negotiate in good faith with United Academics of OSU.
“The university looks forward to a productive bargaining relationship with the UAOSU and our represented faculty as we continue to mutually advance the land grant mission and priorities of the university,” said Steve Clark, vice president for marketing and university relations.