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Non-tenured instructors seek to form union

A group of non-tenured instructional staff members on all three campuses of the University has formed the Lecturers' Employees Organization (LEO). On Dec. 20 LEO petitioned the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) for recognition as the exclusive bargaining agent for most non-tenured instructional staff.

Representatives of the University and LEO met for discussion with the Commission in Detroit on Jan. 23 and again informally in Ann Arbor on Feb. 5. The MERC process will be instrumental in arriving at a definition of the bargaining unit.

"When a union wishes to represent a new bargaining unit, the union presents a proposed definition of the unit in a petition to MERC, along with signature cards from at least 30 percent of the employees in the proposed unit," says David Masson, assistant general counsel, who is representing the University in the MERC proceedings. "MERC certifies that the necessary signatures have been obtained and then schedules a meeting between representatives of the employing organizationin this case the Universityand the union. That's the meeting we had on the 23rd," he says.

Masson says the employees included in the proposed bargaining unit must meet the requirements of the Michigan Public Employment Relations Actthat is, the types of employees must be appropriate to be in a bargaining unit. "If the parties can't agree, a hearing would be scheduled with MERC, which would issue a decision. If MERC finds that the bargaining unit is appropriate and its finding is not appealed, then an election would be scheduled," Masson says.

An e-mail message sent to deans, department chairs and directors on Jan. 16—from Provost Paul N. Courant, and Renate McLaughlin and Robert Simpson, provosts from the Flint and Dearborn campuses, respectively—pointed out that during a union organizing effort it is important to recognize the rights and responsibilities of the unions, faculty—those who may be in a collective bargaining unit, and those who won't—and the administration.

"It is important that potential bargaining unit members are well informed and understand the University's view that they are free to join, or not join, any organization. It also is very important that administrators are factual in their communications. Please check your facts with the appropriate resource before engaging in discussions related to the organizing effort," Courant wrote.

An ad hoc advisory committee has been appointed to address issues raised by the LEO petition.

Questions may be directed to Jeffery Frumkin, assistant provost, academic human resources, (734) 763-4551, or David Masson, assistant general counsel, (734) 764-0304.

University practice, supported by Michigan law, regarding union-organizing activity permits administrators to:

• Express personal opinions, as long as they do not express an implied threat or promise of benefit.

• Urge employees to reject the union, as long as such expression contains no implied threat or promise of benefit.

• Educate potential bargaining unit members on the history of wage and benefit improvements that have been provided without a union, describing the full extent of existing benefits (important because the union may be promising benefits employees already have).

• Compare wages and benefits to organizations with union contracts and communicate this information to potential bargaining members.

• Outline to the potential bargaining unit member that there is a cost of joining the union in the form of initiation fees and dues.

• Clarify misleading statements made by proponents of the union.

• Remind all faculty and staffwhether a potential bargaining unit member or notthat the law prohibits unions from threatening them and from discriminating against them because they were against the union before the election.

Specific concerns include:

• Don't harass or retaliate because of a potential bargaining unit member's union views or sympathies.

• Don't promise salary increases, promotions, benefits or other special concessions to potential bargaining unit members.

• Don't threaten potential bargaining unit members in any way to deter them from union activities.

• Don't meet, confer or discuss substantive issues with union organizers.

• Don't question potential bargaining unit members about their union views, activities or sympathies.

• Don't interrogate a potential bargaining unit member as to how he/she is going to/did vote in an election. It is permissible to listen, of course, if someone voluntarily begins talking about his or her views.

• Don't discontinue privileges or implement policies that may appear to be an attempt to punish faculty for union activity.

• Don't enforce rules strictly against union supporters and show leniency toward non-supporters.

• Don't sponsor, circulate or post anti-union literature, or sponsor or encourage participation in anti-union activities.

• Don't prevent potential bargaining unit members from talking with each other.

• Don't prevent potential bargaining unit member discussions with union officials during non-working time in public use areas to the extent permitted under University or local policy and practice.

• Don't prohibit potential bargaining unit members from distributing union literature in non-working areas during non-working time.

• Don't promise or give special favors for influencing others against the union.

• Don't promise or imply that more lenient policies or special benefits may be provided if potential bargaining unit members reject a union. Reminding them of existing benefits and policies is permitted.

• Don't "spy" on potential bargaining unit members or union activities or send a representative to union meetings.

• Don't prevent potential bargaining unit members from wearing union buttons or insignia.

• Please apply these same guidelines to your e-mail communications as well as verbal discussions.

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