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Cautionary Notes

Practical and legal considerations for faculty and staff to consider


If faculty and staff ultimately decide to form pan-state bargaining units (either jointly with each other or separately), it will not be easy.   Given the meager numbers of faculty and staff working within the UW System (particularly when compared to K-12 teachers in the state) and the potential for fragmentation, prospects for collective bargaining will be difficult, though not impossible.

We are also seeing a fight over the composition of the Board of Regents and specifically where the Board members reside.  What may be at stake is whether or not UW Madison and UW Milwaukee can conclude much more favorable agreements than those working at the other “outlying” universities since the Board of Regents “overrepresents” and thus favors Madison and Milwaukee.

Discrimination among institutions

The legislation explicitly allows the state, through the Board of Regents, to treat institutions differently according to their “comparability” and "other competitive factors.”  This very vague language allows the state to offer different terms to a school like UW-Madison and the so-called “regional comprehensives” as well as to the comprehensives and two year institutions.  It also appears to allow for different collective bargaining agreements to be reached within categories; the collective bargaining agreement reached with UW Oshkosh faculty and UW Stout faculty could be substantially different, for instance.  Or the agreement reached with the academic staff at UW Eau Claire and the academic staff at UW Superior could be substantially different.  Why does this matter?  This has the potential of setting up the various bargaining units as adversaries, with an attendant need to prove the value of each institution individually to get the best deal.  This could be used by the state as leverage to inhibit the joining of the potential bargaining units.  

If faculty or staff of one of the larger, more accomplished four year comprehensives succeed in negotiating a better deal than other comprehensives, they may not wish to bargain collectively with their counterparts at other universities.  At the very least, it would seem logical that UW Madison and UW Milwaukee would probably want to remain independent of the unions representing the other UW schools, as they would not feel it would be in their interest to be yoked to “lesser” institutions.

Implications of a Strike

Since the current legislation prohibits strikes and subjects strike participants to fines, suspensions or discharge, use of this tactic would be unlikely.  This would limit bargaining leverage.

Defining "Faculty" and "Academic Staff"  

“Academic staff supervisors, management employees, individuals who are privy to confidential matters affecting employee-employer relationship, or professional librarians who are also classified as faculty would be excluded” from being considered as academic staff.  “Faculty holding limited appointments and deans would be excluded” from being considered faculty.

 Financing the Union

The activities of the union could be financed in one of two ways, either of which may be chosen by referendum by any individual bargaining unit (curiously, because they are separate votes, a unit could vote to unionize but also vote not to provide funds for their union).  The first possibility is to accept a “fair share agreement,” which means that all the employees in the bargaining unit would “be required to pay their proportionate share” by “dues uniformly required of all members.” 

Alternatively, a “maintenance of membership” provision would finance the union through member contributions.  Signing up for the union would be voluntary for current employees, but each member would be bound to be a paying member for the duration of a collective bargaining agreement.  New hirees made after the effective date of a collective bargaining agreement would be automatically enrolled in the union as paying members. 

A bargaining unit can choose to hold a referendum on a fair share agreement.  If that referendum results in a 2/3 favorable vote, then a “fair share agreement” will take effect.  If the result of this referendum is a majority but not a 2/3 acceptance, then a “maintenance of membership” agreement would be considered adopted.  Alternatively, the bargaining unit could simply vote on a referendum to set up a maintenance of membership arrangement, where a majority in favor would carry the question.

Two-year institutions

If they unionize, the 2 year institutions will form as a single unit for faculty and/or a single unit for academic staff.  This is an advantage to them, particularly in competition for scarce dollars against the small state Universities, like Superior or Stout, which will almost inevitably want to form a pan-University alliance if they unionize.

Mediation/Fact-Finding/Grievance Arbitration

The Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) is authorized to engage in or oversee mediation, fact-finding, and grievance arbitration.

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by Kercher, Stephen E last modified Mar 05, 2010 12:06 PM
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