Signatures Seeking Voluntary Union Recognition
In early April 2001, R As supporting union representation delivered to the UMass Amherst Office of the Associate Provost a petition containing a majority of R A and CDA signatures seeking voluntary union recognition. The administration declined to accept voluntary recognition (UAW Local 2322, 2010). The university’s position was quite clear. As Chancellor Scott stated, “Undergraduates at the university are clearly students. The administration does not support the effort to unionize and will follow established procedures expressing our position on the petition for recognition” (Abel, 2001). Shortly after Scott’s statement was issued, the UAW filed a petition for an election with the MLRC seeking to be certified as the exclusive bargaining representative for Ras and CDAs employed by the university (Board of Trustees, 2002).
The degree of angst and job dissatisfaction expressed by several of the R As who supported unionization was, in the minds of some, overdone. Director of University Housing Michael Gilbert said, “[R A union supporters are] definitely putting a twist on the issues…. The reality is that twice as many students applied to be an R A than slots that were available…. In the past two years, 13 R As were fired out of 700 and they all had a right to appeal the termination” (Abel, 2001).
An R A who did not support the unionization effort echoed Gilbert’s comment: “I think that the conditions are very good and we do get a free double-single on campus. We get respect from the ADs, the ARD and the UMass police department…. I don’t think it’s necessary to have an R A union on campus. It would cause chaos and disagreement. There would be too much turmoil and everyone would have a different view. Nothing would get done” (Martignetti, 2001).
Another R A agreed: “I think [union representation for R As is] a bad idea and I think they’re going to have to face the consequences later. I don’t think that this is a union-appropriate situation. It’s going to change the culture of Residence Life” (Campbell, 2002, March 6). Still another R A questioned the efficacy of the R A union, saying, “Unions were created to prevent employees from being taken advantage of…. Is it really necessary in a university setting?” (Craven, 2002).
- What are the key factors that led some RAs to have interest in union representation? Do you think that RAs have legitimate job-related concerns, or are the RA complaints overstated?
- Do the RAs opposed to unionization have legitimate concerns? How could unionization change the culture of Residence Life?
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- How does the law regarding union recognition for public employees in Massachusetts compare with the NLRA rules regarding union recognition for private-sector employees?
students, emPLoyees or both?
In June 2001 the university filed a motion with the MLRC to dismiss the petition for a certification election on the basis that Massachusetts collective bargaining law did not require collective bargaining between a university and undergraduates who performed services by virtue of their status as students. Between June and July of 2001, the MLRC conducted hearings where the university and the union presented testimony and documentary evidence (Board of Trustees, 2002). The major contested issue centered on R As’ dual student/employee status.
According to Massachusetts law, the term “employee” or “public employee” is defined “as any person in the executive or judicial branch of a government unit employed by a public employer with certain specified exceptions” (Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 2010). Those exceptions include elected and appointed officials; members of any board or commission; representatives of any public employer (including heads, directors and executive and administrative officers of departments or agencies of any public employer) and other managerial or confidential employees; members of the militia or national guard; MLRC employees; and officers and employees within the departments of the state secretary, state treasurer, state auditor and attorney general.
During the hearing, the university expressed concern about the appropriateness of students engaging in collective bargaining. In particular, university officials noted the problems engaging in collective bargaining with the GEO (which represented graduate teaching and research assistants), because the GEO often focused on academic matters rather than employment-related matters. For example, a graduate student filed a grievance because s/he was not rehired as a graduate assistant for the following year. It turned out the graduate student was not rehired due to unsatisfactory academic progress. According to the university, the GEO had too often inappropriately raised academic-related issues in the labor-relations process rather than employment-related issues. The university believed that similar conflicts regarding academic matters would occur if R As engaged in collective bargaining (Board of Trustees, 2002).
On January 18, 2002, the MLRC determined that R As and CDAs had the legal right to organize and engage in collective bargaining. The MLRC directed that a secret-ballot election be held on March 5, 2002, to determine if R As and CDAs desired representation by UAW Local 2322 (UAW Local 2322, 2010). R As and CDAs on the university’s payroll for the payroll period ending January 18, 2002, and who, between January 18, 2002, and March 5, 2002, had not quit or been terminated for cause were eligible to vote in the election. The university was directed
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to provide a list of eligible voters based on payroll data to the MLRC, which would be shared with UAW Local 2322 (Board of Trustees, 2002).
An excerpt from the MLRC decision:
“The question before the commission is whether the dual student/employee status of R As/CDAs, should, as a matter of policy, preclude the commission from granting them collective bargaining rights. … It is well established that dual student/ employee status does not bar students who work at the same institution that employs them from exercising collective bargaining rights. … Although R As and CDAs are only eligible to apply for and continue in their position by virtue of maintaining particular academic and disciplinary standards, we do not find that bargaining with those positions would inevitably intrude into the university’s managerial prerogatives over matters of academic policy, financial aid and campus management. … the actual work performed by the R As and CDAs is not primarily educational and therefore not tied in with their student status as the university contends. R As and CDAs do not receive academic credit for their work, nor do they … have any formal academic responsibilities. … The only discrete academic aspect of the R A position is the minimum GPA requirement. If the university wished to shield that or other academic matters from collective bargaining, it could do so through the collective bargaining process, which does not compel either party to agree to a proposal or make concessions while engaged in collective bargaining. … Most of the concerns the university raises turn largely on speculation over what the union might seek to achieve in collective bargaining. … In conclusion, where the university requires the R As and CDAs to sign employment contracts and job descriptions, has prepared comprehensive R A and residence life staff manuals containing detailed terms and conditions of employment, evaluates those employees at least three times a year… imposes no formal academic requirements on the position. … The fact that one must be a student to obtain and maintain employment does not vitiate the student’s legitimate interests in his or her terms and conditions of employment, particularly where, as here, the vast majority of those terms and conditions are totally divorced from the student’s academic endeavors. Thus, we find that the policies of the law would be effectuated by granting collective bargaining rights to the university’s R As and CDAs” (Board of Trustees, 2002).
The MLRC also determined that R As and CDAs at the university belonged in the same bargaining unit rather than in separate bargaining units or in bargaining units that would include R As and CDAs from the other University of Massachusetts campuses. The MLRC determined that R As and CDAs on the Amherst campus shared a unique community of interest based on sharing virtually identical terms and conditions of employment (Board of Trustees, 2002).
- Why did the MLRC determine that RAs and CDAs were employees? Do you agree with the MLRC decision? Why? Why not?
14 © 2011 society for Human resource management. patrick p. mcHugh, ph.D.
- The MLRC decided RAs and CDAs belonged in the same bargaining unit. Identify reasons why it would not be appropriate to include undergraduate security receptionists, undergraduate clerical workers or graduate teaching assistants in the same bargaining unit as RAs and CDAs.
- If the MLRC had decided undergraduate clerical workers working for Residence Life should be included in the same bargaining unit as RAs and CDAs, what implications would this have for the union recognition process in this case?
- Should RAs at other University of Massachusetts campuses be included in the same bargaining unit as the RAs on the Amherst campus?