2/20/08

AAUP fights decert vote in Michigan

Faculty at Michigan Technological University will go to the polls to once again decide whether they want a union to represent them. The Michigan Employment Relations Commission scheduled a decertification election for Wednesday and Thursday on campus. The ballot will ask tenured and tenure-track faculty whether they want to be represented by the American Association of University Professors.

The union needs to achieve a simple majority, in this case 157 of the university’s 312 tenured and tenure-track faculty, to continue representing the faculty in negotiations with university administration. If the union falls short of that mark, the election will reverse a 2004 vote in which union representation was approved.

The decertification election was initiated Oct. 31, when Jim Mihelcic, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, filed a petition with MERC. At least 30 percent of affected Tech faculty signed the petition.

The Daily Mining Gazette contacted professors Dana Johnson, Brad King and Mihelcic, all associated with the anti-unionization Web site www.qualitymtu.com, but all three declined to speak on the record.

The Web site states the initial vote to unionize passed by a slim margin and was propelled in part by faculty reaction to unpopular policies put in place by former MTU President Curt Tompkins’ administration.

When faculty initially voted to unionize Sept. 29, 2004, the tally was 152 to 134.

According to the site, opponents of unionization hold that stance because they want to retain autonomy, they want to avoid additional bureaucracy they say the union has already created, they do not want to pay union dues and they would not want to be forced to go on strike should the union call for one.

Marilyn Cooper, president of the Michigan Technological University Chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said the union is necessary to help the faculty bargain for better salaries and for administrative procedures that are legally enforceable through a contract.

“Not just this administration, but the two of them before them have felt that they could violate the procedures whenever they felt it convenient,” Cooper said.

The filing of the petition Oct. 31 brought contract negotiations between the union and the administration to a halt.

“Unfortunately, when they file a petition, by Michigan labor laws, you’re not allowed to negotiate any more,” Cooper said.

Cooper said the union and the university had been coming closer to agreeing on contract terms.

“We’ve made good progress toward a contract so we’re not particularly happy that they filed a petition at that point,” Cooper said.

Tech Vice President for Advancement Shea McGrew said the election is a key turning point for the university. He painted the vote as a referendum on the university’s strategic plan, which he said involves a transition from a regional university to a nationally and internationally regarded research institution.

“In a sense this election is really about the strategic direction of the university,” McGrew said. “The union leadership has not been supportive of that strategic direction, which we feel is important for Tech to survive and thrive.”

Balloting is scheduled from 7:30 a.m to 9:30 a.m. and from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; and from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday only. Voting will take place in rooms B1, B2 and B3 on the second floor of the Memorial Union Building.

(mininggazette.com)

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