SEIU Local 1, UMSL faculty file suit against U of M Board of Curators

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SUING FOR A FAIR ELECTION: Michael Smith (center), an adjunct English professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis speaks at a union rally March 23 at the university. – Labor Tribune photo

Rules for election ‘not how bargaining in good faith works’

By TIM ROWDEN

Editor

Normandy, MO – Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1, representing faculty trying to unionize at the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) filed suit in St. Louis County Circuit Court recently against the University of Missouri System’s Board of Curators arguing that the rules the board set for a union election are too restrictive.

The suit seeks a declaratory judgement:

• That the Board of Curators violated faculty’s rights by failing and refusing to hold an election for employees to vote on whether they want Local 1 to represent them.

• That the “UMSL Process” for the election approved by the board violates the Missouri Constitution and should be rescinded and reformed in order to comply with the constitution, and

• That the board be ordered to recognize and bargain with Local 1 as the exclusive bargaining representative for contingent (or adjunct) and tenure-track faculty or hold an election for those faculty to unionize.

‘NO OPTION’ BUT TO SUE

Adjunct and tenure-track faculty began the effort to form a union at UMSL last summer on the heels of successful union votes at other colleges in the region, contending there are gender and minority wage gaps at the university that would best be addressed through unionization.

The Board of Curators spelled out the timelines and voting rules for UMSL teachers to organize, as called for under state law last October. But faculty and union reps say the unique rules approved as the so-called “UMSL Process” are unfair.

Adjunct English professor Micheal Smith said the issues include an unreasonably short window of time — 90 days — to collect enough union cards to hold a vote, as well as 60 days to hold that vote.

In addition, Smith said, the rules in the UMSL Process say the unionization effort must pass by a majority of ALL faculty members, not just those who actually cast a ballot, meaning a non-vote will be counted as a “No” vote.

“In other words, if you can’t make it out on election day because of issues with childcare, transportation or conflicts with other employers (as would be common for adjunct faculty who often must hold more than one job), your vote will be decided for you,” Smith said.

“Our committee has appealed to the Board of Curators to revise the process they have handed down, and the Board has refused to do so,” Smith said. “Therefore, we have no option but to take legal action demanding a fair election process.”

ISSUES AT UMSL

Stacie Manuel, organizing coordinator for higher education at SEIU Local 1 said, “There are a lot of things that faculty have been working on over the past year to make improvements on campus at UMSL. Those include the gender pay gap, issues of racial discrimination and the wage gap for people of color on campus.

“By the administration not passing a fair process that essentially mirrors what other people, other workers across the state are able to access, it bars people from being able to organize and make those improvements on campus,” Manuel said. “That’s why they’re here today to tear down that wall so they can move forward and make UMSL the best place for faculty and students.”

OTHER UNIONIZATION EFFORTS

SEIU Local 1 has been working with college and university professors throughout the Midwest to address equity issues on campuses, give faculty a voice on the job, address the low compensation for their work and ensure greater benefits and job security.

Part-time faculty at St. Louis University voted to join Local 1 last June. Part-time faculty represented by Local 1 at Washington University in St. Louis ratified a contract with the university in 2015

Adjunct faculty groups represented by Local 1 at St. Louis Community College and St. Charles Community College are currently in contract negotiations with both schools.

Faculty represented by Local 1 at Southern Illinois University Carbondale approved a new contract in January and faculty at SIU-Edwardsville are in the process of negotiating a contract.

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