St. Thomas adjunct faculty who teach undergraduate classes are scheduled to receive mail ballots at their homes later this week asking if they want to be represented by a union.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) intends to mail ballots on Thursday (July 3) to 300 adjunct faculty, and must receive ballots in its Minneapolis office by 4:30 p.m. July 18 for them to be valid. They will be counted July 21, and the majority of votes cast will determine the result.
President Julie Sullivan will hold noon-hour forums on the issue today (June 30) in Room 366-367 of the Anderson Student Center on the St. Paul campus and on Tuesday (July 1) in Room 252 of Terrence Murphy Hall on the Minneapolis campus.
Forty adjunct faculty attended four recent forums with Sullivan, and she encourages others to attend this week’s forums to discuss issues related to the election and to hear her perspective.
“This is an important issue for everyone at St. Thomas,” Sullivan said. “I have enjoyed the opportunity to meet adjunct faculty at the forums, and we have had healthy discussions about whether a union is the right choice at this time.”
Sullivan said she believes more will be accomplished if St. Thomas works directly and collaboratively with adjunct faculty and without the involvement of a union that is not familiar with the university’s mission, community and culture.
She is urging adjunct faculty to contact Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 284 and ask it to withdraw the election petition before July 3, thus allowing adjunct faculty to continue discussions with St. Thomas.
“I’m just asking for more time to address the issues,” she told one forum. If her efforts to work only with adjunct faculty prove to be unsuccessful, she said, “then the union option always is there” because they could resubmit the petition after six months. A similar election petition was withdrawn earlier this month at Macalester College, while Hamline University adjuncts have approved a union.
If SEIU does not withdraw the petition by Thursday, Sullivan is urging adjunct faculty to vote “no” and begin discussions with the university. In that case, they could file a new petition after one year if they felt insufficient progress had been made.
Sullivan said she knows that many adjunct faculty want higher compensation, benefits, more recognition and deeper relationships with her administration as well as deans, department chairs and tenured and tenure-track faculty. Those objectives are worthy of discussion, she said, and she pointed to three examples of progress made before the election petition was filed May 23:
- Adjunct faculty have been involved in strategic planning discussions, which she launched in January. The Strategic Planning Steering Committee recommended in May that St. Thomas establish a university committee to develop policies related to adjunct faculty, including an equitable system for compensation and benefits, hiring and retention, classification, access to professional development, and evaluation and recognition of excellent teaching.
- The College of Arts and Sciences, which has had more than 200 adjuncts teaching undergraduate courses since last fall, will increase per-course compensation by $200 effective in September. The increases were approved earlier this year.
- Effective today (June 30), faculty adjuncts will have free access to the Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex as long as they show a current St. Thomas identification card.
Sullivan has told the forums her opposition to a union has nothing to do with money or avoiding cost increases but is centered on the impact that collective bargaining would have on St. Thomas’ ability to hire the best teachers. She wants the freedom both to provide multiple contracts, depending on an individual’s course loads, needs and interests, and to hire adjunct faculty who embrace and contribute to the university’s mission. She also fears she will lose valued adjunct faculty who have told her they will not continue to teach at St. Thomas if there is a union.
“For me, it’s all about our students and the quality of education we can provide them,” she told adjuncts at the June 22 forum. “It’s important that we have the ability to attract and retain the adjuncts who are the most passionate about teaching at St. Thomas.”
Sullivan urged all St. Thomas adjunct faculty to fully inform themselves about the issues. A St. Thomas website is updated regularly to provide information about – and resources related to – the issues and the voting process.
St. Thomas encourages eligible adjunct faculty to ensure they receive a ballot on a timely basis by confirming the accuracy of their contact information, including home address and email address if they prefer a non-UST email, through the Murphy online system.
The NLRB has extended to July 3 the deadline for adjuncts to update their home addresses. If adjuncts have not received a mail ballot within a few days after July 3, they should contact the NLRB regional office at (612) 348-1757 by 4:30 p.m. July 10 to receive a duplicate ballot.
Adjunct faculty are eligible to vote if they taught undergraduate courses during the fall 2013 semester, January 2014 Term or spring 2014 semester or were contracted by June 6 to teach in the June or July 2014 summer sessions. This includes part-time, nontenured and nontenure-track faculty who teach undergraduate credit courses or labs on the St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses and are identified by titles including (but not limited to) adjunct faculty, senior adjuncts, participating adjuncts, supporting adjuncts and adjuncts.