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.

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