"Faculty Forward" typically tries to unionize contingent faculty via a three-step process:
- Building support for contingent faculty unionization
- Getting union authorization forms or cards signed
- Asking for recognition and/or having an NLRB secret ballot election
Over a period of weeks, months, or sometimes even years, union representatives and supporters talk with contingent faculty to hear their concerns and try to convince them union representation would bring about improvements. The union works to obtain contact information for each faculty member (sometimes faculty who support the union will provide the SEIU with home addresses, email addresses and cell phone numbers for their colleagues), and union representatives may catch faculty in hallways, come to their classrooms, visit during office hours or come to their homes on weekends.
During this union campaign, you may be approached by one or more SEIU representatives and/or colleagues to talk with you about the union. You have the right to discuss the union during non-work time as described in the College "solicitation and distribution" policy. If you would prefer to refrain from discussing the union, you may exercise your right to not engage in these discussions and inform the representatives or colleagues that you are not interested in discussing the union or the campaign.
What are union authorization forms or cards?
Online authorization forms or union authorization cards are documents saying you want the union to be your exclusive representative in collective bargaining with management. For example, the online authorization form "Faculty Forward" has asked contingent faculty to sign says:
I understand this card authorizes Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 200United as my exclusive collective bargaining agent. I understand this card may be used to establish that my Union represents a majority of the bargaining unit.
Please note that the form authorizes "Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 200United," not "Faculty Forward," to be the "exclusive collective bargaining agent" for the person who signs, and that the form makes no mention of having a vote.
The SEIU typically uses signed online forms and paper cards or petitions (documents with an authorization statement at the top and spaces for multiple signatures and dates below) in two ways:
- If 30% or more of the group the SEIU is trying to unionize signs authorization forms or cards, the SEIU can ask the National Labor Relations Board to hold a secret-ballot election.
- If more than 50% of the group signs, the SEIU can ask administration to recognize and bargain with the union voluntarily, with no election. Administration could agree (in which case all contingent faculty would become represented by the SEIU whether or not they signed a card) or they could refuse -- and the SEIU then would ask the NLRB to conduct an election.
St. John Fisher College would not agree to an SEIU demand for voluntary recognition, since doing so would deny contingent faculty their legal right to participate in a secret ballot election.
It is important to understand these facts about the SEIU authorization document:
- It says you want the union, not that you want an election. Signed forms could cause all Fisher contingent faculty to become represented by the SEIU if enough people sign, with no election being held (while the College would not voluntarily recognize the SEIU, cards signed by a majority of contingent faculty could also bring about union representation via an NLRB bargaining order or inadvertent inspection of signed forms by Administration).
- Signed cards and forms are not confidential. The SEIU can show your signed form to other faculty to get them to sign too, and they can show signed forms to administration when asking them to recognize and bargain with the union without a vote.
- If you sign and then change your mind, you can ask the SEIU to rescind your online form or give back your card – but they don’t have to do it. If the SEIU does not get enough signatures, their effort to unionize contingent faculty at St. John Fisher College fails. Consequently, they may be reluctant to give up a signed form or card.
After obtaining signatures from at least 30% of all Fisher contingent faculty, the SEIU could file a formal request ("petition") for an election with the Regional National Labor Relations Board Office. The petition would also be sent to the College with a notice of a hearing to be held by the Regional Director (RD) of the NLRB. The College would be given the opportunity to provide its position on whether the SEIU's proposed bargaining unit or any bargaining unit is appropriate. If the RD determines that the proposed unit is appropriate, the RD would direct that a secret ballot election be held at a specified date and time.
The College would also be required to give to the SEIU the home addresses, home email addresses, and home telephone/cell phone numbers of all eligible voters in the proposed unit. This requirement to turn over your personal information is mandated by federal law if the union gets enough support to file a petition.
How is the election conducted?
The ballot used by the National Labor Relations Board for a representation election asks:
Do you wish to be represented for purposes of collective bargaining by [union name]?
"YES" means you want to be represented by this union; "NO" means you don’t.
The outcome of the election is decided by a majority of those who actually vote, not by a majority of those who are eligible to vote.
If 200 Fisher contingent faculty members were eligible to vote but only 50 actually participated, and 26 of the 50 voted "yes," the SEIU would win and become the collective bargaining representative for all 200 faculty. Ultimately, all 200 faculty could be required to start making payments to the SEIU or lose their jobs.
It is not unusual for low voter turnout to result in a union election win. For example, at Elon University in North Carolina:
- 283 contingent, limited term and visiting faculty members were eligible to vote
- 112 voted "yes" (39.5%)
- 68 voted "no" (24%)
- 20 votes were challenged and never tallied (7%)
- 83 did not vote (29%)
The SEIU strongly prefers that voting be done by mail-in ballot, which often has the effect of lowering participation.
What does the outcome of the election mean?
If the union wins, it becomes the exclusive legal bargaining representative for everyone in the unit as soon as the National Labor Relations Board certifies the results of the vote. For that group of workers, this means:
- The SEIU would speak for them on all matters related to wages, benefits and terms and conditions of their employment, and those workers would no longer be allowed to speak for themselves or meet with Administration to discuss such matters.
- The SEIU would begin bargaining with College Administration to develop a contract that determines the wages, benefits and terms and conditions of employment for everyone in the group.
- Everyone in the group would have to decide whether they wanted to join and pay the SEIU in order to have any voice in the union that now speaks for them.
- Once a contract is bargained, it almost always requires that everyone in the group would have to pay the SEIU in order to keep their jobs, whether or not they became members of the SEIU.
If the union loses, no one in the group becomes represented. In addition, for one year no union could try to organize this group of workers and management would be free to continue working directly with them on any issues they feel are important. But a year from the date the NLRB certified the vote, this or any other union could again try to organize these faculty.
What things change when union organizing begins?
When "Faculty Forward" begins working to unionize contingent faculty, obvious changes occur: texts and emails from the SEIU and administration; visits by union supporters and organizers to your classroom, office and home; phone calls from union organizers and supporters; discussions among colleagues about the union question.
But there are other changes that are far more subtle, yet far more important and long-lasting – indeed, these changes become permanent if faculty choose, via card signing or a secret ballot election, to be represented by the union.
These are the changes that occur in the legal relationship between faculty and administration.
1. A legal line is drawn between "labor" and "management."
The National Labor Relations Act draws a distinction between workers who can be organized by unions, and those who cannot. The latter group is considered "the employer" and is comprised of:
- "Supervisors": those with the authority to hire, promote, evaluate the performance, and terminate the employment of other employees.
- "Managers": those who formulate and effectuate management policy and exercise independent judgment in their work.
In 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in NLRB v. Yeshiva University that where faculty in private colleges and universities exercise effective recommendation or control over central employer policies, they are "managerial" and thus ineligible to unionize under the National Labor Relations Act.
2. "Labor" and "management" are assumed by U.S. labor law to be adversaries.
This adversarial model has its roots in the New Deal era, when progressives were concerned by the threat posed by "company unions:" management-controlled associations used as tools to prevent the industrial working class from organizing. In response, the Wagner Act (now called the National Labor Relations Act) gave unions unique federal protections, including the exclusive right to represent employees and the right to strike, and placed many restrictions on the behavior of employers.
3. Employer actions and communications regarding the topic of unionization must conform to legal standards while unions are given considerably more latitude.
While neither employers nor unions are allowed to threaten workers regarding union organizing, unions are allowed to question workers about their union sentiments and make promises to persuade workers to sign authorization forms and vote them in. Employers are not allowed to ask workers how they feel about unionization, and they are not allowed to promise better wages, benefits or working conditions because, unlike the union, the employer can actually deliver those things.
If contingent faculty at St. John Fisher College choose, through card signing or a secret ballot election, to be represented by the SEIU, these changes become permanent and even more dramatic.
- "Labor" and "management" would be separated and no longer could deal with one another directly on wages, benefits or other conditions of contingent faculty members' employment; all such communications would have to go through SEIU representatives.
- The College would be required to participate in adversarial bargaining with the SEIU to develop a contract that dictates all contingent faculty members’ conditions of employment at the College.
- While bargaining takes place, the College would be prohibited from making any changes in wages, benefits or conditions of employment unilaterally; the status quo would be maintained until agreement was reached with the union, even if bargaining went on for many months or years.
- The College would be required to treat contingent faculty members as a collective, not as individuals, and to follow provisions of the contract at all times. For example, SEIU contracts often control decisions that presently may be worked out through conversations between individual faculty members and chairs, such as the time a class would be offered, the classroom in which instruction would take place, or which faculty would be allowed to teach which subjects.
Moreover, since workers cannot be forced to join the unions that represent them (although in New York they can be forced to pay their union), contingent faculty would be divided into "members" and "non-members," just as they now are divided by their support for or opposition to "Faculty Forward."
St. John Fisher College opposes unionization of contingent faculty by the SEIU because under U.S. labor laws, collegiality and respect for individual faculty members' needs would be replaced by adversarial labor/management relations and collective treatment of faculty.
What does it mean to be a "member" of the SEIU?
There's a difference between being "represented" by a union and being a union "member." When a union is voted in, everyone in the bargaining unit (for example, all Fisher contingent faculty) has the union as their exclusive bargaining representative, whether they voted "yes," "no," or didn't vote at all. However, becoming represented by a union does not automatically make you a union member – you still must decide whether you want to fill out a union membership application to join the union that now speaks for you. The SEIU Local 200United membership form says:
I hereby request and voluntarily accept membership in SEIU Local 200United and I agree to abide by its Constitution and Bylaws. I authorize SEIU Local 200United to act as my exclusive representative in collective bargaining over wages, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment with my employer. I recognize the need for a strong union and believe everyone represented by our union should pay their dues. I hereby request and voluntarily authorize my employer to deduct from my earnings to pay and remit to SEIU Local 200United my regular monthly dues. This authorization will remain effective if my employment with the Employer ceases for any reason and I am later re-employed by the Employer, or I am subsequently employed by an employer within the jurisdiction of the union.
The National Labor Relations Act says no one can be forced to join a union. However, under certain circumstances workers can be forced to pay the union that represents them, whether or not they become union members:
- In "Right to Work" states, state law says employees have a right to work without having to pay the union that represents them. The website of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation lists "right to work" states. Also, in 2018 the Supreme Court ruled that government employees cannot be forced to pay the unions that represent them.
- In non-"Right to Work" states (such as New York), union contracts covering workers in private industry can (and almost always do) contain a clause saying union-represented workers must join and/or pay the union "as a condition of continued employment" – in other words, to keep their jobs. This requirement does not take effect until a contract is in place, so while contract negotiations are going on, workers can choose whether they want to join and pay. But once there is a contract, everyone has to pay, whether or not they join.
The SEIU Local 200United membership application form makes this clear:
You have a right to be a non-member of the union. Non-members pay what is called a "fair share fee" for union expenditures germane to collective bargaining. Non-members do not enjoy any of the rights of union membership, including the right to vote on your contract, attend union meetings, vote for union officers, and fully participate in union internal affairs. If you wish to be a non-member fee payer, please contact SEIU Local 200United Secretary-Treasurer, 731 James Street, Suite 300, Syracuse, NY 13203, by mail.
If you are not a member, you are still fully covered by the contract that is negotiated between the College and the union, and the union is obligated to represent you.
Paying for Political Causes and Candidates
Like most unions, the SEIU spends millions of dollars each year to support political causes and candidates chosen by SEIU officers; union members have no voice in those decisions. In 1976, some union members sued their union because they objected to having their fees used to support political candidates they opposed. Ultimately, the case went to the Supreme Court. As a result of their ruling, the law now says:
However, the most that can be required of nonmembers who inform the union that they object to the use of their payments for nonrepresentational purposes is that they pay their share of the union's costs relating to representational activities (such as collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance adjustment).
A clause in the contract between Schenectady County Community College and SEIU Local 200United reflects this ruling (emphasis added):
contingent faculty members covered by this Agreement, who are not members of the Union, shall be required to pay an agency shop fee to the Union each month in an amount equal to the regular union dues. The College shall deduct this fee from such contingent faculty member's salary each pay period and remit same promptly to the Union, together with a list of the names of contingent faculty members from whose salary such deductions were made. The Union warrants that is has established and will maintain a legally valid procedure providing for the refund of any portion of this agency shop fee that is used for the advancement of political or ideological purposes to any contingent faculty member in the bargaining unit who requests such refund.
Contingent faculty represented by the SEIU therefore must choose: become a member and have their dues used to support the political causes and candidates SEIU officials choose (members have no say in this choice), or remain a non-member and have no right to attend union meetings, vote on proposed contracts or strikes, or participate in union affairs.
Obligations of SEIU Membership
The SEIU membership form says you agree to "abide by" the union's Constitution and Bylaws, so it’s important to know what that document requires before deciding whether or not to sign.
When you join, you must take this pledge (the "Membership Obligation" on page 61):
I, (name) ___________, pledge upon my honor that I will faithfully observe the Constitution and Bylaws of this Union and of the Service Employees International Union. I agree to educate myself and other members in the history of the labor movement and to defend to the best of my ability the principles of trade unionism, and I will not knowingly wrong a member or see a member wronged if it is in my power to prevent it.
Page 36, Article XVII, "Trials and Appeals," lists offenses for which members can be put on trial by the union and, if found guilty, punished. These include:
- "Violation of any specific provision of this Constitution or of the Constitution and Bylaws of the Local Union"
- "Gross disloyalty or conduct unbecoming a member" (no definition of these terms is offered)
- "Advocating or engaging in dual unionism, including but not limited to aiding a rival labor organization, or secession in violation of Article XXV" (trying to vote the SEIU out is against union rules)
- "Violation of democratically and lawfully established rules, regulations, policies or practices of the International Union or of the Local Union."
- "Working as a strikebreaker" (workers have the legal right to continue working even when their union calls a strike, but the SEIU can punish members who do)
Any SEIU member can accuse any other member of breaking SEIU rules. When an accusation is made, the Constitution and Bylaws say the Executive Board of the Local Union will either serve as or appoint the "trial body" (jury) that hears testimony and decides whether the accused member is guilty. Members found guilty can be punished by suspension or expulsion from the union or being forced to pay a fine.
St. John Fisher College opposes unionization of contingent faculty by the SEIU because we believe contingent faculty should not have to support political causes and candidates the SEIU chooses in order to have any "voice" in their workplace.
What does it mean to be "represented" by the SEIU?
The instant the NLRB certifies the SEIU as having won the election, the union becomes the exclusive legal bargaining representative for everyone who had been eligible to vote. As a member of that bargaining unit, you could no longer represent yourself in discussions with the College regarding your wages, benefits and conditions of employment. Instead, the union speaks for you in several different ways:
1. The union speaks for you in bargaining a contract with the College that sets your wages and benefits.
The law says contracts are between the employer and the union, not between the employer and employees. The Constitution and Bylaws of SEIU Local 200United affirms this:
9.4 Collective Bargaining Authorization. Every member of SEIU 200United by virtue of his/her membership authorizes SEIU 200United to act as his/her exclusive collective bargaining representative with full and exclusive power to execute agreements with his/her employer governing terms and conditions of employment, subject to the ratification of the membership, and to have final authority to settle any grievance or dispute arising under any such collective bargaining agreement.
9.5 Contract Signing. The President of SEIU 200United, or his/her designee, shall have the exclusive authority to sign all collective bargaining agreements of SEIU 200United.
2. The union chooses a few of your colleagues to speak for you day to day.
Today, if you wish to discuss your appointment or what you teach and when you teach it, seek a special accommodation to your work schedule, or raise other concerns, you engage directly with your department chair or other College representative.
In a union environment, department chairs and College leaders would be prohibited from dealing directly with you regarding the terms and conditions of your employment. Rather, the College could work only through SEIU Local 200United officials and a few contingent faculty members the SEIU has chosen to be "Stewards." The Constitution and Bylaws of SEIU Local 200United says:
7.6 Stewards. The President may appoint a Steward(s), or order a proper election for the Steward(s) whenever he or she deems it necessary for the welfare of the membership and Local Union.
Your steward makes a lot of decisions for you:
- Your steward can refuse to process your grievances if he/she decides they "lack merit."
- Your steward decides how your grievances are settled, regardless of what you want. As the Local 200United Constitution and Bylaws state, the union has "final authority to settle any grievance or dispute arising under any such collective bargaining agreement."
3. A single committee replaces contingent faculty participation in College governance.
When contingent faculty become represented by a union, their participation in collaborative decision making often cannot continue: the union is their exclusive representative regarding such "conditions of employment" as class schedules and teaching assignments. Instead, union contracts usually create a single "Labor-Management Committee" like the one described in Schenectady County Community College's contract with SEIU Local 200United, ARTICLE 6 – LABOR MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE:
- The College and the Union are committed to an ongoing collaborative relationship that fosters effective ongoing communication, and addresses issues and concerns with solutions that are in the best interest of the Parties. To that end, the Parties agree to the creation of a joint labor-management collaboration committee.
- The Committee shall consist of no more than five (5) representatives designated by the Union and five (5) representatives designated by the College. Ad hoc participants may be added to the Committee as needed only by mutual consent of the College and Union.
It is important to understand two things about these committees.
- They don't meet very often. For example, the Schenectady County Community College Labor-Management Committee meets once in the Fall Semester, once in the spring semester and once in the summer. Similarly, the Siena College contract says "Labor Management Meetings" need occur just once each semester.
- They are advisory, not decision-making. Labor-Management committees can make recommendations to the College, which continues to have the authority to decide whether or not to follow those recommendations.
Without a union, you can problem-solve or "work things out" with chairs, directors, deans, the provost and associate provost, human resources officers, etc. – you can talk about any issue you want with anyone you choose.
With a union, that changes: any matter having to do with your pay, benefits and "terms and conditions of employment" must go through the union that speaks for you.
Finally, terms of the contract negotiated by SEIU Local 200United would apply to all contingent faculty in the bargaining unit, so the flexibility the College has now to meet your unique needs as an individual faculty member would be greatly diminished.
St. John Fisher College opposes unionization of contingent faculty because we strongly believe that contingent faculty should be able to participate in collaborative decision-making, and that the best work environment is one where individual faculty members' unique needs can be addressed.
How does contract bargaining work?
When a faculty is unionized, the union becomes the faculty's exclusive representative on issues that are subjects of bargaining, including wages, hours and conditions of employment. Administration can no longer directly deal with faculty members on employment issues, either individually or through shared governance. Instead, administration legally functions as "management" to negotiate with the union a new employment contract for "labor."
Collective bargaining is typically conducted in a series of in-person meetings. Though more formal in nature, the collective bargaining process is not much different from everyday negotiations between parties, like the process of buying a car. A union bargaining committee presents a series of proposals and the College responds with its own proposals and counteroffers. The duration of bargaining varies depending on the complexity and number of bargaining proposals and counteroffers, as well as the ability of the parties to agree on each.
Six Important Facts About Contract Bargaining
1. You must become a member and pay dues to participate in SEIU bargaining.
The Local 200United Constitution says, "The members of each Chapter shall choose a negotiating committee...," adding that "The negotiating committee shall include the Chapter officers" the members have elected. Moreover, before bargaining begins "the chief negotiator and the Chapter officers will conduct contract proposal meetings of the Chapter members..." and "Members will also be surveyed concerning matters they wish to be included in the contract proposals." [emphasis added]
2. Pre-bargaining meetings and surveys are less about bargaining subjects and more about bargaining unit solidarity.
No one is surprised when all of the members suggest "more pay" and "better benefits" in meetings and surveys. In fact, the union must bargain over these issues because the law says, "The duty to bargain covers all matters concerning rates of pay, wages, hours of employment, or other conditions of employment." On the other hand, members never suggest that the SEIU demand "mandatory payment of dues or fees," "automatic dues collection" or "more union access to our workplace," but the SEIU always bargains for those, too.
The primary purpose of pre-bargaining meetings and surveys is to encourage bargaining unit faculty to join the union and to create among faculty a sense that it is the SEIU who is looking out for their interests, not the College.
3. The bargaining process automatically makes the union appear pro-faculty and the College appear anti-faculty.
Since the law requires both parties to bargain "in good faith," the College and the union must be willing to adjust their positions; they can't say, "Here's our offer; take it or leave it." So just as someone selling their house asks for more than they expect to get and a potential buyer offers less than they are willing to pay, the union begins by demanding more and the College begins by offering less than they are willing ultimately to accept.
Unions often use this to their advantage by telling faculty after each bargaining session, "Look how hard we're fighting to get you what you want and look how little administration is willing to give. Without a union, you'd get almost nothing." When bargaining ends, faculty often are grateful to the union and resentful, or worse, of administration, regardless of the outcome.
4. There are no guarantees in contract bargaining: union-represented faculty can get more, the same or less than they had before they unionized.
There is a common misperception that current terms and conditions of employment serve as the floor and can only improve with collective bargaining. This is not true, as courts repeatedly have ruled:
"There is, of course, no obligation on the part of the employer to contract to continue all existing benefits, nor is it an unfair labor practice to offer reduced benefits..." (Midwestern Instruments, Inc., 131 NLRB 1132)
There is no guarantee the SEIU would negotiate improvements in pay, benefits, or working conditions. Indeed, it is impossible to say what would happen to the compensation and benefits you currently receive – they may diminish, improve, or stay the same:
"The United States Government and the N.L.R.B. do not guarantee employees that the collective bargaining process starts from where you presently are in wages, insurance, pensions . . . and all other conditions of employment . . . nor did the government guarantee that you will lose no benefits..." (Automation and Measurement Div., Bendix Corp., 69 LRRM 2157)
5. The contract must set "all matters concerning rates of pay, wages, hours of employment, or other conditions of employment," but it does not have to satisfy faculty the union represents.
The contract applies to all faculty members included in the bargaining unit, regardless of whether or not they approve of the contract. Courts have ruled:
"Inevitably differences arise in the manner and degree to which the terms of any negotiated agreement affect individual employees and classes of employees... The complete satisfaction of all who are represented is hardly to be expected." (Ford Motor Co. v. Huffman (1953) 345 U.S. 330, 338, 73 S. Ct. 681, 97 L. Ed. 1048)
The SEIU is free to trade away existing benefits enjoyed by the faculty in exchange for terms important only to the union – for example, a "dues check-off" clause requiring the College to deduct dues from faculty paychecks and remit them directly to the union. In fact, the NLRB has specifically stated, "In the give-and-take of bargaining a union is free to give up items important to employees in exchange for dues check-off clauses." (La-Z-Boy, 281 NLRB 338 (1986))
6. Bargaining can be very slow, particularly for an initial contract.
As in any negotiation, contract bargaining is a give-and-take process and the law does not set a timeline for its completion. It is not unusual for a collective bargaining agreement to have 30 or more distinct subjects or articles, each of which must be discussed and agreed to for the contract to be completed. In the end, a first contract can take many months, or even years, to negotiate.
What happens to your pay and benefits while bargaining is going on? Basically, nothing. The College is required by law to "maintain the status quo" during bargaining, continuing existing pay and benefit practices until a contract is agreed to that changes those things.
St. John Fisher College strongly prefers to work directly with faculty in identifying and meeting their individual needs, and to do so through its existing collaborative, collegial process rather than through the adversarial, divisive process of formal collective bargaining with the Service Employees International Union.
What would happen if the College and the SEIU could not agree?
Not all contract negotiations result in a final agreement. In fact, the law expressly states that the obligation to bargain in good faith "does not compel either party to agree to a proposal or require the making of a concession..."
In the event of a deadlock, the parties could agree to involve a mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to help reach an agreement. This is not done very often because both parties have to approve, and usually the union or the employer objects. Unlike an arbitrator, the mediator does not decide for the union or the College; rather, he or she works to facilitate ongoing communications between the parties. Consequently, the involvement of a mediator does not guarantee that agreement will be reached.
The rights of the College when there is no agreement
When the union and the College cannot reach agreement after engaging in good faith bargaining, normally the College makes its final proposal, often called a "last, best, and final offer." In response, the union usually will ask its members to vote on the proposal. If the members vote to accept (or "ratify") the offer, then the parties have a collective bargaining agreement. But if the members reject the offer, there is no agreement and the union may decide to strike. Also, once a genuine impasse is reached, the College has the right to implement unilaterally its last, best, and final offer, changing faculty members wages, benefits and conditions of employment accordingly.
The rights of the union when there is no agreement
The Union has the option of accepting the College's final offer, "walking away" and abandoning the negotiations and the bargaining unit or initiating a strike or some other action to disrupt College operations. A recent study found there has been a total of 42 strikes involving faculty, graduate assistants, and non-academic employees in higher education during the seven-year period from 2012 to 2018, and that the number of strikes in 2018 was more than double the number in 2017. One-third of those strikes involved faculty.
The Local 200United Constitution outlines the union's procedures for calling strikes:
10.1 Right to Strike. Members of a Chapter shall be empowered to strike subject to the limitations of this Constitution and Bylaws.
10.2 Strike Approval. A strike cannot be conducted unless the affected membership votes in favor of such action at a meeting called for that purpose. Such a vote shall be conducted by secret ballot and a two-thirds (2/3) majority of those voting shall be required in order to approve a strike.
Only dues-paying members are allowed to vote, and a strike can be called only if 2/3 of those who actually vote approve the strike. But the Local 200United Constitution does not describe what form the vote would take, which can be extremely important.
Members may be forced to choose between accepting a proposed contract or going on strike. Often, the ballot says:
_____ YES, I ACCEPT THE TENTATIVE AGREEMENT
_____ NO, I REJECT THE TENTATIVE AGREEMENT AND VOTE TO STRIKE
If members don't like the contract, their only other option is to strike; asking the union to keep bargaining isn't one of the choices. Moreover, since a 2/3 majority of the voting members is required to approve a strike, when fewer than 2/3 vote for striking the tentative agreement could be accepted automatically.
The SEIU may hold a strike authorization vote rather than a vote to actually strike. When members arrive at the union meeting, the SEIU's lead negotiator may say, "We need to show administration we mean business, or we won't be able to get you a good contract. If you vote to authorize a strike, it doesn't mean there will definitely be a strike. But it will show administration we have the power to call one if we don't get what we want. All in favor, raise your hands."
Not voting to authorize the union to call a strike would greatly limit their ability to get you and your colleagues what you want in bargaining, the lead negotiator will say. Indeed, at the University of Oregon the SEIU told members that the best way to avoid a strike was to sign a pledge to strike "to give our bargaining team the power to win the best contract possible."
Because of pressure from the union and their fellow members, almost no one votes against strike authorization, even if a strike is the last thing they want.
What happens if the SEIU calls a strike?
A strike is when the union and its members withhold labor in an effort to force the College to accede to union bargaining demands. The law says you cannot be forced to go out on strike even if your union calls one, and any faculty in the bargaining unit (dues paying or otherwise) may cross the picket line and continue their teaching, research, and service. However, the SEIU International Constitution (page 37) specifically prohibits "Working as a strikebreaker or violating wage or work standards established by the International Union or a Local Union," and SEIU members who cross the picket line can be fined by the union for having done so.
Strikers immediately lose their pay and compensation (stipends, etc.), and the College can stop paying for any benefits they provide to strikers. In New York, private-sector workers who go on strike can file for unemployment benefits after being on strike for two weeks and receive their first benefit check after a one-week waiting period. When the strike is about wages and benefits (an "economic strike") the College also may replace some or all striking faculty, perhaps permanently.
Strikes are often accompanied by picket lines and disruption, and faculty who continue teaching may be called a "scab" (or worse) and harassed as they cross picket lines. Sometimes there is vandalism and violence, and when the strike ends there are hard feelings for a long time.
Ultimately strikes are harmful to students, faculty and the institution as a whole – indeed, harmful to everyone except the union officials who call them.
St. John Fisher College opposes unionization of contingent faculty because the adversarial relationship between "labor" and "management" necessitated by U.S. labor law too often results in strikes and other disruptions of campus that are detrimental to students.
If contingent faculty become unhappy with the SEIU, can they vote the union out?
Sometimes workers are given the impression that they have nothing to lose by voting in the union because: (1) they don't have to pay dues until there's a contract; (2) they can vote against any contract they don't like; (3) they can vote the union out after one year if there's no contract.
It's true that a union cannot be voted out for one year after it is certified by the National Labor Relations Board as having won a representation election. Indeed, even if every contingent faculty member the SEIU represented decided shortly after the election that they did not want the union anymore, it would be legally impossible to vote the SEIU out for one year.
But even when the year is up, it is very difficult to vote out a union. The legal process to "decertify" a union is complex, and unions typically fight hard against decertification efforts. There are several ways the SEIU could ensure they are not voted out and thus continue to collect money from the contingent faculty they represent.
- Agree to a contract. The existence of a contract can prevent a decertification vote. If the union signs a contract during the one-year period following the election (or any time after a year if employees have not yet requested a decertification vote), the NLRB will not conduct an election during the first three years of the contract or just before the contract expires, whichever is sooner. Sometimes when bargaining has gone on for nearly a year, unions will reduce their demands and agree to a contract just to prevent workers from having a chance to vote them out.
- Punish members who try to vote them out. In nearly every union, it is against union rules to try and vote the union out. The SEIU is no exception: the International Union Constitution says members can be punished for "Gross disloyalty or conduct unbecoming a member," with possible punishments including expulsion or suspension from the union or a monetary fine.
- Make sure management stays "hands-off." People in supervision and management are not allowed to help employees who want to vote out their union. While management is allowed to inform employees of their rights concerning decertification, they cannot assist the effort in any way, such as by letting employees use office machines, college facilities or work time for their decertification activities. All expenses related to the decertification effort, including hiring legal counsel, must be paid by the employees themselves.
- Use legal tactics to prevent a vote. A union can file multiple "unfair labor practice" charges with the National Labor Relations Board that block a decertification vote from taking place. Since workers have to pay their own legal costs, it can be hard for them to fight this tactic.
The legal process for voting out a union can be cumbersome. On their own, union-represented contingent faculty would have to obtain the signatures of at least 30% of the bargaining unit on a document saying they no longer wished to be represented by the SEIU. Then they would file a petition with the National Labor Relations Board requesting a decertification vote be held.
Again, the NLRB does not accept decertification petitions for one year following a union's initial certification by the NLRB. Also, when a collective bargaining agreement has been reached, contingent faculty cannot ask for a decertification election during the first three years of the CBA except during a 30-day "window period" that is 60 to 90 days before the end of the contract – or after the contract has expired, if no extension or new contract has been agreed to.
If a vote is held and 50% or more of those who actually vote reject union representation, everyone in what used to be the bargaining unit becomes free to deal directly with the College on issues related to pay, benefits and terms and conditions of their employment.
Decertifying a union is a difficult, time-consuming and costly process. As a result, union decertifications are relatively rare – once a union has been voted in, it usually is there to stay.