Adjunct Faculty Receive Union Election Ballots

Mail ballots should arrive by today at the homes of adjunct faculty who teach undergraduate classes at St. Thomas, asking if they want to be represented by a union.

The ballots were mailed Thursday and must be received in the Minneapolis office of the National Labor Relations Board by 4:30 p.m. July 18 to be valid. They will be counted July 21, and the majority of votes cast will determine the result.

The NLRB mailed the ballots after Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 284 decided not to withdraw the election petition. According to adjunct faculty who oppose union representation at this time, 91 adjunct faculty signed letters or separately asked SEIU to withdraw its petition and allow them to begin discussions with St. Thomas.

President Julie Sullivan has said she believes more will be accomplished if St. Thomas works directly and collaboratively with adjunct faculty and without the involvement of a union that is not familiar with the university’s mission, community and culture.

“I want to thank adjunct faculty for participating in the constructive dialogue to date,” Sullivan said. “It has been important to hear firsthand about their concerns as well as the pleasure they derive from teaching at St. Thomas. I also appreciate the trust so many of them placed in me by asking the union to withdraw the election petition.

“At this time, I encourage all eligible adjunct faculty to vote – and to vote no.”

A St. Thomas website is updated regularly to provide information about – and resources related to – the issues and the voting process. Sullivan has shared her perspective during six adjunct faculty forums and various communications, including a video that she emailed to adjunct faculty last week.

Forum discussions

At the forums, which were attended by a total of 60 adjunct faculty, Sullivan said she knows many of them want higher compensation, benefits, more recognition and deeper relationships with her administration as well as deans, department chairs and tenured and tenure-track faculty.

Sullivan was asked during the June 30 forum whether adjunct faculty would lose their bargaining power if they voted “no” and did not have a union acting on their behalf. Would adjunct faculty be able to trust her?

“Absolutely,” she said. “My credibility is at stake here. ... Everyone would lose respect for me if I didn’t work with you.”

John Morrison, chair of the St. Thomas Board of Trustees, told forum attendees that the board supports Sullivan “100 percent” and expects her to work with adjuncts to address their concerns.

Sullivan believes progress already had been made on issues before the election petition was filed May 23, and cited three examples:

  • Adjunct faculty have been involved in strategic planning discussions, which Sullivan launched in January. The Strategic Planning Steering Committee recommended in May that St. Thomas establish a university committee to develop policies related to adjunct faculty, including an equitable system for compensation and benefits, hiring and retention, classification, access to professional development, and evaluation and recognition of excellent teaching.
  • The College of Arts and Sciences, where more than 200 adjuncts have taught undergraduate courses since last fall, will increase per-course compensation by $200 (about 5 percent) effective in September. The increases were approved earlier this year.
  • St. Thomas approved free access to the Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex, beginning June 30, for adjunct faculty with a current St. Thomas identification card.

Sullivan told the forums her opposition to a union has nothing to do with money or avoiding cost increases but is centered on the impact that collective bargaining would have on St. Thomas’ ability to hire the best teachers. She wants the freedom to provide multiple contracts, depending on an individual’s course loads, needs and interests, and to hire adjunct faculty who embrace and contribute to the university’s mission. She also fears she will lose valued adjunct faculty who have told her they will not continue to teach at St. Thomas if there is a union.

Voting eligibility

If eligible adjunct faculty do not receive a mail ballot by Tuesday, July 8, they should contact the NLRB regional office at (612) 348-1757 by 4:30 p.m. Thursday, July 10, to receive a duplicate ballot.

Adjunct faculty are eligible to vote if they taught undergraduate courses during the fall 2013 semester, January 2014 Term or spring 2014 semester or were contracted by June 6 to teach in the June or July 2014 summer sessions. Eligible faculty include part-time, nontenured and nontenure-track faculty who teach undergraduate credit courses or labs on the St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses and are identified by titles including (but not limited to) adjunct faculty, senior adjuncts, participating adjuncts, supporting adjuncts and adjuncts.