Sunday, August 31, 2014

I may not be in the union/bargaining unit after all

I have a confession to make and the short version is that it appears I might not be member of the bargaining unit and therefore not a bona fide member of the UICUF.  Although I have had reason to suspect this was the case since the Non-tenure-track contract was made public, it's only in the last week or two that I have had compelling reasons to believe so.  If that is true--that I'm not a member of the bargaining unit and therefore not a union member--it obviously vitiates my claim to speak as a dissenter from within the union.  And, again if it's true, I apologize for not acknowledging the signs earlier.

The longer version of the story is this.  Back in January or early February 2014, I asked an acquaintance who is active in the UICUF, but who does not work in the same unit I do, if I was part of the bargaining unit.  Instead of answering right away, he or she checked with his or her colleagues to see if I in my visiting position made me a member of the bargaining unit.  Whoever he or she checked with seems to have believed that I was.

Around the same time--probably after I spoke with my acquaintance although I am no longer certain--I asked one of my supervisor/colleagues if I was in the bargaining unit.  He or she thought I was.

After conferring with my acquaintance and supervisor/colleague, I initiated contact with the steward from our department and he or she, believing in good faith that I was a member of the bargaining unit, gave me a union card, which I signed.

Shortly after signing the card, I started this blog to express my dissent "as a member" of the UICUF.  I also participated, albeit reluctantly, in the two-day strike in February.  I also self-reported that I did not work on those two days because I believe it would be wrong to receive payment for days I have not worked.  To now, I have not yet seen any deduction for those days.

The first evidence I had that something might be off came when I first read the union contract for non-tenure-track faculty.  Article II [on page 3], which discusses recognition, defines the bargaining unit thusly:
All full-time...non-tenure track faculty who possess a terminal degree appropriate to the academic unit in which the faculty member is employed and all full time non-tenure track faculty without the appropriate terminal degree who have been employed for four consecutive semesters, excluding summer terms.
I met the "full-time" criterion, but it's not clear whether I have the "terminal degree appropriate to the academic unit in which" I am employed.  I do have a terminal degree in one field, but that field is not the same field as the unit in which I am employed.  In my unit, there is currently discussion about whether a terminal degree in another field can qualify as a terminal degree for the sake of who can work in my unit.  But my understanding is that so far, no decision in that respect has been reached.  And although my terminal degree is indirectly related to my current field/unit, it is not clear that it meets the contract's standard of "appropriate."  I also started my appointment late in 2013, so I have certainly not been employed "for four consecutive semesters."

That should have been a clue to me that something was amiss.  I can't plead that it's only fine print, either.  I didn't read the entire contract, but I remember reading that particular portion, among others.  So I should have 1) raised my question then and there and 2) disclosed that issue on this blog.  I failed to do so and I apologize for that.

At any rate, I did not heed what should have been an indication that I might not be a member of the bargaining unit/union.

I voted on the contract and as I stated at the time I voted to approve because I believed that a vote not to approve would unconscionably precipitate the very strike about which I had been critical on these blog pages.

In the succeeding months, on these blog pages, I have occasionally noted not having received any wage increase but also that I had seen no dues deduction from my paycheck.

Fast forward to the end of summer.  My colleagues in the union got letters notifying them of contractual raises.  To be clear, I did not ask to read those letters nor did I specifically ask my colleagues about the content of those letters.  Also, at least some people who I know are not covered by the contract received letters, and again, I did not inquire directly to them of the letters' contents.  But the "chatter" at the workplace suggests that those letters were to advise union members of their contractual ages.

That point in itself doesn't bother me.  Again, I received my appointment late in 2013.  And being my first full-time appointment, it's not clear to me that I should qualify for a wage increase or back pay under the contract. 

Therefore, the weight of the evidence right now suggests I'm not part of the bargaining unit and therefore not a bona fide member of the union.  Or I might be.

I'm not sure exactly where to go from here.  As I said above, I participated in the two-day strike, and as I understand, labor law does not protect from firing non-members of a bargaining unit when they strike.  That point aside, I'm wary of publicizing overmuch my dubious status as member of the union.  I could query the people in charge of the union, but I am reluctant to do so because I do not want to be made into a special case over which the union has to fight in some jurisdictional battle with the administration.  I've noted in these pages the special advantages that come from union representation, and those advantages were the main reason why I said I would continue to pay dues even if there were no fair-share provision.  Still, it's like long-term disability insurance.  It's good to have, but you don't ever want to have to use it.

If it is true that I'm not really a member of the bargaining unit, I don't intend any special criticism union or of my acquaintance and colleague who said I was a member.  They honestly believed my membership to be the case.  I do think--again, assuming I'm not a member--that this is representative of a bias in a union.  In most cases, it's to any union's advantage to increase its coverage.

I do think the union should, however, be more sensitive to and vigilant about the marginal cases, like mine, before they declare membership status.  There's a risk--not large, but still a risk--that identifying me as a non-member (if, indeed, I am a non-member) could lead to disciplinary action.  If what I fear is true, that further substantiates my claim that the UICUF will function in a way more beneficial to certain employees than to others.  It, or at least its contract, places some faculty on a more marginal position in relation to others.  That's not necessarily a bad thing in general, nor is it a peculiarly unfair thing, either.  But it needs to be acknowledged.

This situation, which I admit is not yet resolved, poses two challenges for this blog.

First, my months-long claim to speak as a dissenter from within the union could be now proved false.  Even though as early as April I probably should have known, I have made those claims in good faith.

Second, I have blogged pseudonymously, but I have also adopted the attitude that if my identity were found out, it would not necessarily be a bad thing.  I do not believe I have said anything on these pages that is so beyond the pale as to damage my reputation or bring dishonor to my unit/department.  However, now that disciplinary action might be a possibility, I need to be much more careful and perhaps reconsider whether it is wise to continue this blog.

UPDATE:  Unless and until this issue is resolved, or until I decide what to do, I am indefinitely disabling comments and indefinitely withdrawing my invitation to submit guest posts.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Submit a guest post!

I  respectfully request anyone who wishes to submit a guest post for this blog.  Pretty much anything related to the UIC United Faculty Union is fair game.  I'm soliciting posts from people who disagree or agree with me on the many issues discussed at this blog.  I certainly have my own specific take on the union, but my main goal is to foster dialogue, and one way to do that is to give others a voice here.

A few ground rules:

1.  If I publish your post, I won't edit for content, although I may edit for format or to correct typos.

2.  I reserve the right NOT to publish a submitted guest post for any reason, or for no reason.  The most important reason for not publishing something will be if the submission is uncivil, libelous, in violation of copyright, or derogatory toward people based on their race, ethnicity, religious, sexual orientation or other category. 

3. If I publish your post, I endeavor not to remove it unless it can be shown to be libelous or in violation of copyright or at the request of the author.

4.  I will accept anonymous guest posts, or guest posts under the author's true name.  I do not even have to know your true name to accept a guest post. 

UPDATE August 31, 2014:  It turns out I might not be a member of the UIC United Faculty Union.  Unless and until this issue is resolved, or until I decide what to do, I am indefinitely disabling comments and indefinitely withdrawing my invitation to submit guest posts.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

On "loyal opposition"

I have changed the lede to my blog to read "One voice of loyal opposition to the UIC United Faculty Union."  I'd like to explain that a bit.

First of all, I say "one voice" because mine is not the only one nor do I necessarily speak for anyone who dissents from some or all of what the UICUF is doing.  It is possible that some very committed members of the union, who would never think of abandoning it or its principles, might disagree with some of what it is doing.

Second, I'll explain what I mean by "loyal opposition." I mean that as long as the UICUF doesn't do anything I deem unconscionable or that I disagee with strongly, I will remain a member and cheerfully allow my dues to be automatically deducted.  Of course, because the contract includes a "fair share" provision, I don't have much of a choice.  But if fair-share were ever invalidated, my position would remain the same.  I also believe that keeping one's membership gives the union a certain legitimacy it would not otherwise have.  It is one thing to claim x number of dues-paying members.  It's quite another to claim x-n number of dues-paying members and n number of members from whom dues must be taken against their will.  To be clear, I have yet to see a dues deduction (or any of the promised raises).

What qualifies as "unconscionable" or criteria for "strong disagreement"?  I don't know and it can be subjective, but here are the most likely candidates:

  • The union might choose to demonize those who criticize it as "anti-union" or "anti-student" or "scab."  I can understand if certain members of the union engage in such shenanigans, but if the union officially does, or if it refuses to disavow such shenanigans, then I might construe its action/inaction to be official endorsement.  I don't expect the union to take an official position disavowing every instance some hotheads make a precipitous statement.  But if a pattern of demonizing people becomes prevalent, then the union would have a duty to reaffirm its main principles.  (To be clear, I don't think this is a current problem with the union.  Just a potential one.)

  • The union or its affiliates might adopt a position on political issues outside its role of representing its members, or it might adopt a position on a political issue I disagree with very strongly.  I won't here and now state what those are, mostly because some of my views are probably not shared by a majority of my union members and I don't wish to make the blog a forum to discuss them unless the union makes them a question of union policy.
  • The conflict of interest that I believe is inherent in the union, which represents tenure-track faculty and non-tenure-track faculty, whose interests are sometimes opposed, might become more real than theoretical.  I look at my tenure-track colleagues as true colleagues, and they haven't given me reason to think they are anything but fair, even more than fair, to people in my position.  But if an issue develops that sets our interests against each other, and the union cannot handle the conflict of interests in an equitable manner, then I may need to reconsider my union membership. 
  •  The union might explicitly endorse its members' providing the case for the union to students, outside of properly educational purposes.  It is one thing, for example, for an instructor in a class on labor relations or government or numerous other topics to discuss the issues surrounding the UICUF.  It is quite another for an instructor to take advantage of a captive audience to present the case for the union.  To be clear, when a contract is up for negotiation, it's fair for instructors to alert students to the possibility of a strike, or to very briefly explain what the union is asking for.  But I will say that some of the messages from union organizers during the last strike and lead-up to the potential 2nd strike seemed to suggest making the case to students during class time.  And anecdotally, I knew some members who encouraged their students to attend the pro-union rallies.  To me those examples are very close to the line and go over it.  If that becomes official union policy, I cannot support it.

Third, if the question of re-certification comes up, I shall have to reconsider my membership.  As I understand it, the "card check" procedure for certifying the union means that simply by signing a card and becoming a member, one has "voted" in favor of certification.  If that is also required for re-certification, then I will have no choice but to reconsider my membership.  In that case, I am in somewhat of a bind.  I may believe that I owe a certain "loyalty" to the organization that is there to support my interests while it officially supports me.  But if I come to the conclusion that I no longer want it to support me, then I must formally disaffiliate myself from the union, instead of merely voting not to re-certify.  I haven't made up my mind whether I will disaffiliate when/if the time comes.  (And I may no longer be faculty member by that time, either, if the university is not able to renew my contract.  So the question then would be moot.)

Fourth and finally, "loyal opposition" means to me not an incessant criticism with the goal to undermine.  It's too easy to find fault.  I mean it as criticism, but with a goal toward helping the union improve its message and its operations.  (I also want to give the union kudos when I see it doing something well.)  I suggest that if the union wishes to represent its members well, it ought to listen to those who may be ambivalent about it.  No one dissenter probably shares all or most of my concerns, but any given concern of mine might be shared, and the union might do well to learn of them.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The case for a conscience exemption: Addendum

If this blog has any regular readers, they will know that I have devoted the last three posts to arguing for a general "conscience exemption" to fair-share dues payment.  If you wish to read those posts, you can find them here, here, and here.

In this "addendum" to those posts, I wish to address a possible objection my readers might have.   I have in this blog gone on record as believing the UICUF and its contract are on balance more harmful than good.  And if the issue of re-certification ever comes up, I'm not now certain I would vote to re-certify.  And yet, one of my arguments for expanding the exemption is that doing so could help the union more than hurt it.  Am I not being a bit of a hypocrite or what on the blogosphere is called a "concern troll"?  (A "concern troll" is someone in blog forums who raises a concern--in this case, perhaps the survival of the union--only for purposes of contravening that concern.)

First, I'll point out that that objection is not logically relevant to my argument.  Expanding the exemption can be beneficial to the union.  Or not.  But any ulterior motivations I have do not affect that question.

Second, I don't see what I am doing as "concern trolling."  As I've also argued in these posts, I believe expanding the exemption to be the right thing to do and if I am to be represented by a union, I'd prefer it be by a union that tries to do the right thing.  Also, I realize those who support the union have fought long and hard for it.  They want it to work.  On this issue by itself and notwithstanding my all-too-human failing of wanting to be proved right in my predictions even if that means something bad will happen, I see us as sharing common ground.  We can co-exist in an atmosphere of mutual respect and not one of acrimony.

Elsewhere on this blog, I have mentioned that most members of the union with whom I have raised my concerns have treated those concerns and the concerns of other faculty members with respect.  At least one supporter has gone out of his way to listen to me and although he or she does not necessarily agree with most of what I say, he or she relayed , my concerns on to others in the union and for all I know, those concerns may have informed some of the union's decisions.  And while I owe my own decision to keep my membership card to my sense that I ought to pay for the upkeep of the organization from which I benefit, I could resign the membership in protest and with a clear conscience because I'd be paying anyway through fair-share requirements.  (As an aside, I'll note that under the conscience exemption plan, one can resign one's membership and yet not elect the exemption.).  And one reason I haven't resigned is in part because the unions' supporters have been so willing to engage.

Finally, does the union want to create active opponents?  I can understand why the union would not want to go out of its way to appease the likely very small number of dissenters and thereby compromise the support it enjoys from the overwhelming majority of its bargaining unit.  But the union might want to consider how many of those who support it support enthusiastically and how many support it only reluctantly.  And it might also want to consider whether, among those who don't support it, it wants to alienate them and encourage them to take stances actively opposed to it.  It's one thing to have dissenters.  It's another to have opponents who might, for example, speak to local media as the voice of internal opposition.  In my opinion, expanding the conscience exemption will prevent alienating dissenters in that way.

If the union expands the exemption, that would be a sign to me of its continued willingness to engage its opposition, an opposition that in my case and so far, is a contingent, "loyal opposition."  I won't guarantee that expanding the exemption will seal my support for the union during the next round of negotiations.  And it may not win new supporters.  But it may make me, and other dissenters, less ill-disposed toward the union.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The case for a conscience exemption, Part Three

In my last two posts, I made the argument (here and here) that the union ought to expand the religious exemption from fair-share payments to a general exemption.  In both posts, I also mentioned that certain "ground rules" should apply.  In other words, there is a way to do it without turning the exemption into an "open-shop" contract.  I dedicate this post to exploring those ground rules.

But first, I need to point out a difficulty I have run into while writing this post.  The rules I thought of got more and more complicated as I considered the various ways in which the union, those seeking exemption, the administration, and perhaps hyper-partisan third parties might intrude onto the exemption system and use it to undermine the union.  I was thinking mostly of worst case scenarios:  what if the exempted person tried to divert funds to an anti-union organization?  what if the exempted person forge a receipt of payment?  what if the union stalls the process by being hypercritical of every charity the exempted person wants to pay?  what if the exempted person creates a shadow organization that remits the diverted dues money back to him or her?

Yesterday, I've started to re-read James C. Scott's book, Two Cheers for Anarchism, and that drove home to me the folly of trying to devise hard and fast rules to govern the process and account for every contingency.  Therefore, we have to remember the following.  People can game even the best devised and fairest set of rules.  No ground rules will cover all contingencies.  As I've suggested in my last post, if enough people in the bargaining unit are going to go to the effort to claim the exemption as to pose a problem for the union, then the union has a bigger problem in terms of maintaining the support of its charges.

So, here are the "ground rules" for the exemption system I'm arguing for.  But a better term than "ground rules" might be "guiding principles," the details to be worked out in practice and assuming good faith.

1.  The exemption should be relatively easy to get.  One ought to be able, for example, to download the appropriate form, or perhaps even register for it online.

2.  The exempted person must be required somehow to pay the equivalent in fair-share dues and not get a direct benefit from the money.  The principle is that everyone pays, and if they object to the union, then they still pay.

3.  The exempted person must be required to show proof of payment, or perhaps the union can arrange a way to deduct the money automatically from the paycheck, and perhaps permit the money to be "banked" in a separate account from which a charity can be paid.

4.  The charity should be mutually agreed upon, but the criteria should be clear so that, for example, if an organization is a bona fide charity, non-sectarian, and perhaps also non-partisan or non-political, then the union should agree to it.

5.  Point number three notwithstanding, I'm agnostic about whether the money can go to an anti-union organization or to a rival union or to a political organization.  I tend to oppose money going to such organizations.  However, if the UICUF and its affiliated unions, which enjoy a proportion of dues payments, use dues money engage in political lobbying, the maybe we ought to consider it.

6.  The implementation of this policy or the resolution to any disputes or conflicts--say, about what "charity" is appropriate, or about whether an exempted person has shown adequate proof of payment--ought to recognize that the important thing is the exempted person has parted with an amount of money equal to what his or her fair-share dues would have been.

7.  The union must remember that the members of its bargaining unit do not necessarily owe the union its support as a matter of natural obligation.  If someone seeks the exemption, that means the union has not made its case to that person.  Maybe, like me, you believe that one who benefits from the union ought to contribute to its upkeep.  But perhaps you, also like me, believe that the union and its contract will, on balance, do more harm than good.  I reject the notion that the latter position is self-evidently wrong, and I certainly reject the notion that one cannot hold the latter position in good faith.