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Court rejects attempt to unionize all U of MN faculty

ST. PAUL — University of Minnesota part-time and contingent faculty may not join the same union as those on the tenure track, the state Court of Appeals said Tuesday, Sept. 5, striking a blow against efforts to unionize faculty on the Twin Cities campus.

SEIU Local 284 in January 2016 filed a petition to represent both faculty groups in a single union. But before the roughly 3,000 faculty could vote on whether to form a union, U leaders challenged who could participate in the election.

The Bureau of Mediation Services found in Local 284's favor in September 2016, saying the Legislature had never placed part-time and contingent faculty in any of the 13 specific bargaining units for the University of Minnesota.

The bureau then determined that such faculty belong with the full-time instructional faculty in bargaining Unit 8, with whom they have "significant community of interest."

However, the U argued the Legislature already had classified contingent faculty as members of Unit 11, which represents "professional and administrative staff."

A three-judge appellate panel Tuesday sided with the U. They said contingent faculty do not belong in Unit 8 because they do not have academic "rank," as specified in statute.

Further, the court rejected the argument that even if the Legislature had placed contingent faculty in Unit 11, their work has changed enough to give BMS authority to reclassify them.

The U now is using more contingent faculty more often, but that does not mean the content of the work has significantly changed, the judges found.

"We are pleased with the Court of Appeals decision because it is consistent with the state law's definition of our faculty bargaining unit," Kathy Brown, the U's vice president for human resources, said in a written statement.

The push to unionize Twin Cities faculty has been part of a national SEIU effort to improve working conditions for adjunct college instructors. Adjuncts at Hamline and Augsburg universities and Minnesota College of Art and Design since have joined Local 284.

Local 284 said in a news release Tuesday that it would consider appealing the decision to the state Supreme Court.

"The University's position is a deliberate misinterpretation of what campus faculty do, explicitly intended to divide us in order to limit our power to protect and improve our working conditions, which are also our students' learning conditions."

The last union vote at the U's Twin Cities campus narrowly failed in 1997.

If the U's lecturers and teaching specialists are excluded from the vote to form a union, Local 284 figures to be less likely to prevail.

The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.