St. Thomas adjunct faculty members face a Friday, July 18, deadline to decide whether to be represented by a union, and President Julie Sullivan is urging them to vote “no” in favor of a speedier, more collaborative process to address their concerns.
Under a “yes” vote, St. Thomas and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 294 would begin a process on a collective bargaining agreement that would cover about 300 adjunct faculty who teach undergraduate classes. It could take a year or longer to reach an agreement, based on experience at other universities with SEIU contracts.
Sullivan believes direct collaboration would be a faster and more efficient way for her administration and adjunct faculty to work together, without the involvement of a union that is not familiar with the university’s mission, community and culture.
“The more I talk to adjunct faculty, the more I am convinced that we can work together to resolve the issues,” she said. “We have had many constructive discussions over the last six weeks. I have a better understanding of their concerns, and we will begin work immediately to address them if the vote is ‘no.’ ”
Sullivan said 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 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.
Trust is the Key
In a letter to adjunct faculty last week, Sullivan reiterated her pledge to work directly with them if a “no” vote prevails.
“It boils down to one word: trust,” she wrote. “I trust you, and I ask only that you trust me – to live up to my words and to work with you. I will because I believe it is the right thing to do. I will because my reputation is on the line. I will not risk losing my credibility with you, as well as with our full-time faculty and our Board of Trustees, by doing anything else.”
Sullivan said she expects that improvements to adjunct faculty work terms and conditions would remain in force beyond her presidency.
“Faculty contracts, annual pay increases and benefit policies can be institutionalized without a union contract and would be difficult to undo without demonstrating financial exigency,” she wrote. “Similarly, new structures for adjunct faculty ‘voice’ and input would be difficult to dismantle without the consent of those involved and the provision for a replacement structure.”
Sullivan said the progress made on adjunct faculty issues during the spring semester, before SEIU filed the election petition on May 23, “was just the beginning. We can do so much more.” Adjunct faculty participated in strategic planning discussions, and an oversight committee recommended that Sullivan establish a committee to develop policies related to their work. The university approved $200 per-course raises for College of Arts and Sciences adjunct faculty, effective in September, and free access to the Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex for all adjunct faculty.
“Please vote ‘no’ on union representation,” she concluded in her email, “and let’s get back to work to protect and enhance the quality of education that we provide to our students.”
A St. Thomas website is updated regularly to provide information about – and resources related to – the issues and the voting process. Sullivan has shared her perspective during six adjunct faculty forums and various communications, including a video emailed to adjunct faculty earlier this month.
Ballot submission deadline
Election ballots, which were mailed July 3 to the homes of adjunct faculty, must be received in the downtown Minneapolis office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) by 4:30 p.m. Friday to be valid. Ballots will be counted July 21, and the majority of votes cast will determine the result.
Ballots should be mailed to, or dropped off at, the NLRB office at 330 Second Ave. S., Suite 790.