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A petition being circulated at Oregon State University could force an election on efforts to organize a faculty union on campus.

United Academics of OSU, an organization backed by the American Association of University Professors and the American Federation of Teachers, filed a certification petition with the Oregon Employment Relations Board on June 5.

The petition was supported by authorization cards signed by what union supporters called “a decisive majority” of the university’s 2,400 or so teaching and research faculty. Union certification by the so-called “card check” process requires a simple majority of the bargaining unit.

Some faculty members, however, have criticized the card check approach as undemocratic, and an attempt is underway to put the question of union representation to a vote.

Under Oregon labor law, an election is required if requested by at least 30 percent of the proposed bargaining unit.

Keith Leavitt, an associate professor of business and an outspoken critic of the card check process, has begun circulating an election petition and says he’s well on his way to getting enough signatures to force a vote on the matter.

“Hopefully by the end of this week or the beginning of next week we’ll be ready to submit to the Employment Relations Board,” he said.

Leavitt said he doesn’t necessarily oppose unionization but objects to the card check process because it did not allow for a campuswide discussion of the issue.

“A private ballot is the gold standard for democracy,” Leavitt said. “The idea is just to use a process that looks like something we’re all familiar with, that looks like a democratic vote.”

Glencora Borradaile, an associate professor in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science who supports the union effort, disputes the assertion that the card check process is undemocratic or that faculty debate on the union question has been stifled.

“An election, as we’ve seen federally, is determined by a small portion of the population,” she said.

“I don’t agree with (Leavitt’s) assessment, and I think he uses it as a smoke screen for just being opposed to unionism.”

Adam Rhynard, chair of the Employment Relations Board, said anyone who opposes the union certification has until June 25 to request an election or file a formal objection. No objections have been filed to date, he added.

Most public universities in the state, including Portland State and the University of Oregon, already have faculty unions.

Classified workers and graduate student employees at OSU already are  unionized.

Reporter Bennett Hall can be reached at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter at @bennetthallgt.

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Special Projects Editor

Special Projects Editor, Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald

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