Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Janus decision

As I (kind of) predicted last year, the Supreme Court has invalidated compulsory fair share provisions for public sector employee unions. As I promised, I have effective today, June 28, 2018, rejoined the union despite the fact that I do not support it. The reasons I have joined are two:

First, I have personally benefited in many ways, directly and indirectly. It would be wrong, in my opinion, to forbear paying and yet receive benefit, absent any compelling reason.

Second, there has been no compelling reason. The union, its leaders, and its members have refrained from doing anything unconscionable. With very few exceptions--such as anyone must expect from an organization of this sort--the union's members have refrained from the types of antagonistic confrontation against dissenters in which other unions sometimes engage.

In fact, the few times I have raised my concerns about the union, I received an empathetic hearing even if my interlocutors disagreed with me. And when I rescinded my membership back in November 2015, the union rep cheerfully went out of their way to return my membership card and while they expressed hope I might rejoin, they didn't pressure or harangue me.

I may or may not comment later on the Janus decision itself. I'm still reading it and I haven't made up my mind about whether or not I agree with it. I just wish to say now that while I disagree strongly with my colleagues who choose to support the union, I appreciate the opportunity to be their colleague and am grateful for every day I can work with them at UIC.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

A promise from me: revisiting the "fair share" requirement

Earlier on this blog I said that if "fair share" for public employee unions is ever invalidated by the US Supreme Court, I would rejoin the UIC United Faculty Union. I stand by that statement. The only exception would be if the union does or promotes something unconscionable. I'm not exactly sure what I mean by "unconscionable," but I'll say I haven't seen the union or any of its members do anything approaching "unconscionable" even when I disagree with them.

It now appears that I may soon be called upon to act on my promise. The US Supreme Court seems poised to decide the issue. And given the court's current composition, it's more than even money it will invalidate "fair share" dues in the public sector.

One thing I liked about the fair share dues was that I could claim to dissent from the union and yet know I'm at least contributing to the upkeep of something that benefits me. I have personally and very tangibly benefited from the union contract at least in the short term. (In the longer term and among my other reservations, I worry that the union making my services much more expensive and those expenses may be a reason for the university to terminate my position.) If fair share dues are invalidated, my conscience will compel me to sign on as a union member. And under the card check system, joining the union is a vote to keep the union, a vote I might cast differently if it were presented on a ballot.

An alternative to fair share?

If the Court does invalidate fair share for the public sector, it will essentially create new rules for public sector unions. I believe there may be a way to save the essence of fair share while operating under these new rules, and doing so will be more likely to win approval from the Court

The union should consider offering a "conscience exemption" for those who simply oppose the union and don't wish to or cannot honestly invoke the religious exemption. I envision the conscience exemption to operate like the current religious exemption. The one who invokes it gets out of paying union dues, but instead must devote the same amount to a charity or other nonprofit organization.

Here are reasons to consider a conscience exemption.

First, let us remember we are all colleagues. Under a conscience exemption, those who dislike the union strongly enough to invoke it would probably continue to dislike it. But they would be less likely to be a committed enemy of the union. If someone dislikes the union strongly enough, that person would have an outlet that's better than a voice vote or a show of hands at a meeting, where he or she would otherwise stand alone in front of a large group and advance an unpopular opinion. In the meantime, that person remains a colleague, whose strong views on the union are given substantial respect.

Second, I predict union would lose very little money. While I wouldn't make invoking the exemption an onerous process, a dissenter would still have to go out of his or her way to invoke the exemption and in the end will have to part with the same amount of money. And even though I dissent from the union, I believe it has strong arguments to offer in its favor. In other words, I don't believe the only reason the union continues to get dues is because it compels the dues in the first place.

Third, a conscience exemption could be a useful signal to the union about how it might improve its appeal. If my prediction above is wrong, and the union suffers a noticeable loss of funds from a conscience exemption, that circumstance will alert the union that it needs to rethink how it appeals to the bargaining unit. It's better to be alerted by an uptick in conscience exemption claims than to be surprised by a decertification campaign. I don't believe such a campaign is forthcoming, but should it come or even be considered, a conscience exemption could provide a timely warning about its possible success or failure.

Fourth, as I suggested above, if the Supreme Court does invalidate "fair share" in the public sector, perhaps a conscience exemption could be just the modification that would pass muster in a subsequent case. The conscience exemption would likely not resolve all the Court's constitutional concerns, but it could resolve just enough of them to secure five votes. If I'm right, the conscience exemption would save "fair share."

Potential problems

One problem with my proposal is that my predictions above could simply be wrong. Maybe the union would lose a lot of money. Maybe the Supreme Court would invalidate even a conscience exemption.

Another problem is that executing the "conscience exemption" might be harder than I make it out to be. Perhaps there are unseen opportunities for abuse that I don't know about.

A more significant problem is that the union and university might not be in a position to agree on a conscience exemption. Perhaps such an exemption must be enabled by a state law. I'm too ignorant of the legalities.

But if such an exemption does need state approval, it might very well prove to be the type of law that the current legislature and the current governor can agree on. It contains something for both sides of the current debate about public employee unions. Those, like the governor, who question those unions' legitimacy, gain an acknowledgment on behalf of those who believe they are unfairly coerced to support an organization with which they disagree. Those, like a large number of the Democratic delegation in the legislature, believe that public employee unions should remain strong, will find a policy that in practice offers such unions most of what fair share already does, but on a potentially firmer legal basis.

Parting words

Again, if fair share is invalidated, I plan to rejoin the union. If a conscience exemption is created, I plan not to invoke it. I have benefited so much and in ways so tangible that I would feel remiss if I did not contribute a share of the cost involved in securing those benefits. Having said that, I still hold to most of the reservations about the union I have expressed in this blog.

Finally, I wish to say that while I disagree with most of my colleagues about the union, I realize that they sincerely believe the union is good for them, for the university, and for its students. I have also heard from one union member that the union itself has strengthened his or her commitment to the university--if that anecdote is generalizable, then the union could be a good thing even if one grants my reservations. Finally, I should say that union officers and fellow colleagues who support the union have always treated my views with respect and have never put undue pressure on me or made me to feel self-conscience about my dissent from the union. We disagree, but that disagreement need not impede, and has not impeded, our friendship, collaboration, and dedication to the university's mission.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

(Another) status update

It appears I am now a member of the bargaining unit. My last paycheck had the automatic fair share deduction taken out.

This is not actually a surprise. There are a lot of complicated details I won't go into, but enough has changed at work that it's perfectly reasonable that I'm in the bargaining unit now when I wasn't before, even though I had for a time mistakenly believed I was.

As I've said in the past, I'm not opposed in principle to paying fair share dues even though I am no longer a formal member of the union and even though I do not wish to endorse the union by becoming a member. (I had signed a card but have also terminated my membership and asked for my card back, which the heads of the UIC United Faculty Union did courteously and promptly.) If I receive the benefits of membership, I feel a personal obligation to pay.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Status update

Well, it seems mostly settled that I'm not in the bargaining unit after all. I recently rescinded my membership in the union, and when I did so was informed that I was not a member of the unit in the first place. (Still, the leadership promised to honor my request to leave the union and promised to return the card I had signed.)

On one level, this news is a bit disturbing. I had been told much earlier that I was a member of the bargaining unit. I participated in the two-day strike because I thought I was a member of the unit. If I understand correctly, someone who walks off the job in a labor dispute and who is not a member of the bargaining unit can be fired. It's also disturbing because I was allowed to vote on the contract. Finally, it could mean that I was inadvertently lying when I claimed to be a member of the bargaining unit.

On another level, it's not quite as disturbing as it seems. Dues have never been deducted from my paycheck, so I haven't had to pay. Also, I do believe that those who told me I was a member of the bargaining unit did so in good faith. I am in a marginal position.  By marginal I don't mean "marginalized" (being full time, I'm definitely better advantaged than many NTT's), but I mean "on the margin between member and non-member of the bargaining unit." It's likely that the question of whether the small number of people like me are in the bargaining unit has been a point of interpretation. It's also possible that I was in the bargaining unit at the time of the strike and at the time the contract was voted on, but wasn't when my contract was removed.

I may still comment from time to time on UIC United Faculty matters. One reason is that as a citizen, I'm interested in how things turn out. Another reason is that whether or not I'm a member of the bargaining unit, I am still affected by what the union does, for good and for ill. When my contract was renewed last year, I got a pay increase. It's possible that increase was a result of the fact that a union is on campus. However, my usual fears about the union making it more expensive to hire people and making it more difficult (albeit perhaps only marginally more difficult, given other non-union challenges to the university's budget) for me to keep my job remain. For example, as I noted in a prior post, visiting appointments like mine seem disfavored by the contract:

The contract [p. 10] says all visiting appointments are to be for one year and appointments for greater than one year (which I assume includes also visiting "re-appointments") "should be utilized to meet unpredicted or unexpected staffing needs."

When that provision was announced at the informational meeting, several members cheered and clapped.  If you had asked them why, I assume each would have said that this provision prevents the university from simply reappointing someone to "visiting" positions and thereby forgoing its responsibility to make a long-term commitment to its employees.  But I suggest that they're also cheering a policy, the practical result of which might be the discharge of at least a few people currently in "visiting" positions.
As I've said before, if this situation is unfair, it's not peculiarly unfair, and I've gotten my share of advantages from the way things work. That said, I believe I'm correct to say that on balance, the union does not represent my immediate interests. For that reason and for reasons stated elsewhere on this blog, from other observations I have not noted, and from a private conversation with one other union member, I decline to support the union.

Therefore, I have done the following:
  1. I have changed the blog lede from "a voice of loyal opposition" to "a voice of opposition."
  2. I have rescinded my signed support for the union. I decided on this even before I found out I was no longer a member of the bargaining unit.
  3. I have unsubscribed myself from the online forum on which union matters are discussed. I actually did this several months ago. And I did so because I did not want to risk learning something confidential and inadvertently blogging about it.
  4. For similar reasons, I have decided to no longer go to union meetings, not that I can, not being a member of the bargaining unit. Occasionally I must attend faulty meetings at which union matters are discussed. In those cases, I probably will not absent myself from that part of those meetings.
I do believe that those who support the UICUF sincerely believe it's a good thing. I disagree and believe they are mistaken. But I wish them no ill-will.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


I have often criticized the UIC United Faculty Union's website. My main criticism stands. It is inaccessible and seems designed to discourage people from viewing it, and it essentially erases the union's pre-website history. It is very hard to find statements online made by the union from its older website(s), and I have not found any statement from the union explaining why it has, apparently, erased its past statements, or even acknowledging it has done so. It may not be the union's fault. Maybe an easier to read website costs more resources and maybe the union cannot afford to devote its resources to the website. And maybe the union's legal counsel has advised the organization to erase statements made in the past.

I am, however, inclined to give the UICUF a break on one criticism I have made. I have often criticized the union for not posting its minutes of meetings. And except for two meetings, the union has posted no minutes.

I'm no longer sure that that criticism is a good one. The minutes are an internal document of union meetings, and the meetings are supposed to be a time for union members to speak and devise strategy or air grievances. For me to demand that the union disclose the content of such meetings is to demand that the union essentially abrogate its prerogative to be the voice of its bargaining unit.

I will point out that the union does have a section on its website called "meeting minutes," and as long as it has that section, it should provide some explanation of which minutes are posted there and which are not, and why. Perhaps the union should delete that section if it intends not to do such things.

But I no longer believe it's the right of the public, or of a dissenter like me who has declined to go to most union meetings, to know what those minutes include. Perhaps a non-dissenting member who has missed a meeting should be able to access the minutes, but there can be a more confidential way to make those available than an open website. The union should be as transparent as possible, but it need not disclose the content of its internal deliberations.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Wherein the UIC United Faculty Union demolishes one of my criticisms

A long, long while back, I criticized, at this link, a statement made by the union.*  That statement said in part, that some faculty (before the union contract) earned "less than they would if they were managing a McDonald's."**  At the time, I wrote, that the statement conveyed "a certain antipathy toward the type of people who work at McDonald's.  It's almost as if it is offensive that someone who works 'merely' at fast food or other customer service jobs might earn more than someone who does higher work."

But now, I read on the minutes from the UICUF's last representative assembly meeting on February 5, 2015*** that the attendees spoke with a delegation from "Fight for Fifteen," an organization that, apparently, seeks to increase the pay of fast food workers and other workers in Chicago (and perhaps elsewhere) to $15 per hour and to promote union recognition for such workers.  The union's Facebook feed contains a reference to a rally that those workers will hold in April. 

Whatever reservations I have about the UIC United Faculty Union, I support fast food workers' efforts to unionize.  And even if I didn't, I'd have to acknowledge that these statements of support--however modest they might be in the in the grand scheme--demonstrate more support for such workers than my prickly comments from over a year ago. 

So to the union:  Good Job!

*That link goes to a post in which I reproduced a letter I had written on February 8, 2014.  The letter itself is in PDF format, and what I quote above comes from page 9 of that document.

**That statement was part of the union's old website and therefore cannot be linked to.  I'll point out how that is one example in which the union has excised its public record.  One effect of dismantling its old website  is to erase potentially embarrassing statements such as the one I cite here.  That said, I do not claim that avoiding embarrassment is the main, or even a, reason for dismantling the site.  I don't know the reasons the union did so, and there may very well have been good reasons, about which I can only speculate, ranging (I suspect) from technical issues to legal problems with what the union may have said during the lead up to the contract ratification.  Whatever the reasons and however critical I may be of the decision, I believe the union was within its rights to dismantle its old website.

***That link takes you to the page the union devotes to meeting minutes.  From there, click on the link for the February 5, 2015 Representative Assembly Meeting.  It is a PDF document.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Good on the UIC United Faculty Union

I have complained recently (here and here) about transparency and the UICUF website.  But I should point out that the union has posted minutes from its February 5, 2015 minutes.  Here's it the link to the PDF, and here is the link to the page where the PDF is housed.  I have not read the minutes yet but plan to do so when I get the chance (and am not sure when that will be).

Regrettably, the union has not posted its minutes from the December 2015 meeting, or at least not yet.

Still, I would like to congratulate the union for deciding on transparency over secrecy.