Unions work together to prevent regional union-busting trend

By Gus Bode

After a year of contract negotiations and a weeklong strike, campus unions have learned the same thing as national unions: Unions are stronger when together in solidarity.

When the Faculty Association went on strike Nov. 3 as contract negotiations with the administration continued, the group’s three sister unions, which had reached contract agreements, supported the FA by picketing when they weren’t working.

The four unions — the Association of Civil Service Employees, the Faculty Association, the Graduate Assistants United and the Non-Tenure Track Faculty Association — are part of the National Education Association, the largest labor union in 48 states with more than 3 million members nationwide, and the SIUC Labor Coalition.

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Earlier this month, voters in Ohio rejected Gov. John Kasich’s law, which took away collective bargaining rights for public sector unions including more than 350,000 teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public workers.

The teachers unions under NEA in Ohio joined together to produce a referendum to overturn the restrictions as part of We Are Ohio, a union-funded coalition that spent more than $24 million on the campaign, which included advertising in opposition to the legislation.

Zev Eigen, an assistant professor of law studies at Northwestern Law School in Chicago who studies labor and employment law as well as contracts and negotiations, said there is a trend of conservative governments trying to limit unions’ ability to collectively bargain and weaken their ability to receive more benefits for their members in the Midwest.

“There haven’t really been any dramatic changes in the law in 20 to 30 years, so it shouldn’t be too surprising to anyone who has been studying this stuff for a long time that there is a significant decline in unionization,” he said.

In Wisconsin early last year, Gov. Scott Walker passed legislation also limiting collective bargaining with public employees in order to cut the budget. With the law in effect for months now, Walker has said it works by helping school districts save money and avoid layoffs. Thousands of protestors were against the legislation and often times flooded the capitol building’s steps.

Jim Clark, Illinois Education Association representative, said the SIUC Labor Coalition was established in Nov. 2010 when four furlough days were implemented on campus.

Since then, they have held rallies to raise awareness of contract issues, filed an Unfair Labor Practice — action taken to violate the National Labor Relations Act — against the university, and all four unions set a strike date for the same day.

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Eigen said employer’s ability to make unilateral changes to terms and conditions in the workplace is easier when there are not unions.

“If they need to make changes in the ways people are hired, fired, promoted and terminated, the easiest way to remove sometimes costly barriers to doing so are to decertify or not have a union there in the first place,” he said. “That is the guaranteed way to reduce the cost of business anyway.”

Dave Johnson, spokesperson for the Faculty Association and an assistant professor of foreign language, said because of the move throughout the country to limit the power in public sector unions, the four unions working together strengthened what they were trying to accomplish for the university.

“I think it is easy to marginalize the faculty because we are, in terms, relatively privileged employees on this campus, and having the fact that we were working together with non-tenure track faculty, GA’s and civil service members pointed to the fact that it was something bigger … making sure the people who are providing services to students are treated fairly,” he said.

Johnson said when he picketed, almost a third of the people at the picket locations were not FA members — they were members of the community or other unions providing moral support.

After a week of picketing, the FA’s Departmental Representatives Council voted to not strike any longer because they believed to be close enough to a tentative agreement. The two bargaining teams signed a tentative agreement Nov. 14.

Clark said the coalition of unions is what led to all four receiving tentative agreements.

“The administration at the bargaining, at the beginning, didn’t come to the table willing to compromise, but in the end they did. In my view, all four unions reached a tentative agreement … so I do think, had we not done the coalition, the outcome for all four locals might not have been achieved,” he said.

Eigen said the right and ability to collectively bargain is an important right in a democracy.

“Whether you like unions or not, I think it is an important right in our democratic society to be able to vote on a representative, and that is what unions are: A representative of employees,” he said.

 

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