Drive launched to unionize University of Oregon faculty

  • Sun Jan 29th, 2012 8:41pm
  • News

Associated Press

EUGENE, Ore. — An effort is afoot to unionize 2,000 faculty members at the University of Oregon.

The Register-Guard reports that advocates have started fanning out to ask supporters to sign cards seeking state recognition for a new labor organization. The group United Academics of the University of Oregon began collecting cards from its strongest supporters earlier this month and has since expanded its efforts.

Under the process chosen by union advocates, supporters need to collect signed cards from more than 50 percent of those in the proposed bargaining unit, which would include all full- and part-time instructors. Supporters say it would give professors a greater say in the direction of the university and in how money is spent.

“From our angle, this is the democratic process,” said Scott Pratt, a philosophy professor. “We want to make sure that the folks in the bargaining unit have a chance to think about this, and when we reach a point where over half of the members want the bargaining unit, the state gives us the possibility of forming the union.”

The university says it supports the right of workers to organize and has taken no position on the organizing effort.

“We support a worker’s right to organize,” UO spokesman Phil Weiler said. “Our involvement is we just want to make sure we’re providing everybody with factual information so they can make informed decisions, but beyond that we support their right to organize if they think that’s the right thing to do.”

The pro-union cards faculty are being asked to sign are valid for 90 days. Union backers began collecting the cards Jan. 9, which means they have until early March to collect more than 1,000 before the first few begin expiring.

Full-time, tenured faculty sometimes have interests that differ from those of part-time or non-tenure-track instructors, but Deborah Olson, a full-time, non-tenure-track instructor in the College of Education, said the concerns of both groups are well-enough aligned at the University of Oregon to be served by one union.

Among those concerns, she said, are the allocation of resources for the university’s primary mission of teaching and research, class sizes, and the need for more and newer classrooms.

“We have more concerns in common than we have differences,” Olson said. “We both share concerns about the quality of teaching and the quality of research.

“Our working conditions are the students’ learning conditions, and if we have poor working conditions the students have poor learning situations.”

Organizers say the existing system of shared governance, which includes the University of Oregon Senate, doesn’t have the power to negotiate binding agreements with the university or with the state, leaving the final decisions largely in the hands of the university president.