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Faculty union sues Minnesota State over unpaid wages

ST. PAUL—The labor union of faculty members at Minnesota's two-year colleges filed a lawsuit Friday asking a Ramsey County District Court judge to enforce an arbitrator's ruling that found the Minnesota State system owed its instructors hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages.

"This lawsuit is the result of the system's refusal to treat our members fairly, with respect, and in accordance with an arbitrator's ruling," said Kevin Lindstrom, president of the Minnesota State College Faculty union, in a news release sent out late Friday afternoon. "It has been 18 months since the binding award and the system still refuses to comply."

During the arbitration process, system representatives argued if the arbitrator ruled in the union's favor, it should not be specific concerning an award.

"Any ruling in the union's favor, if any, should be prospective only given the huge logistic difficulty in calculating the pay for some 8,000 faculty members affected by grievances going back to 2010," the decision stated.

Minnesota State paid more than $323,000 to 69 instructors within the Minnesota State system following the ruling. However, the union claims the system miscalculated the amount owed and has not taken the required steps to ensure its instructors are paid according to the terms of the contract agreed to by Minnesota State Board of Trustees.

"The behavior of the system in this case shows a complete lack of regard for its employees, not to mention the ruling of the arbitrator," said Lindstrom. "If the union doesn't stand up for these employees, who would? The answer clearly isn't the employer."

The negotiated contract between the union and the college system lays out the terms and conditions of employment for the faculty, including how the system administrators should calculate compensation for the faculty's work.

The arbitrator found the system's calculations were shorting the members of the faculty for their work in flex labs, independent study programs, internships, combined classes, science labs and mentoring. The union filed multiple grievances over several years before an arbitrator ruled May 16, 2016.

Grievances between the union and the system rarely result in lawsuits, but Lindstrom said the system's behavior in this case led to a different outcome.

"We're in this situation because the system is both violating the arbitrator's ruling and behaving in a manner completely inconsistent with previous similar instances," he said. "The fact that paying our members correctly, as determined by the arbitrator, will cost the system a good deal of money is not justification for their behavior."

Minnesota State noted the ruling affected not only current employees, but would impact faculty dating back many years.

"The employer noted that some faculty have retired or left the affected colleges and that the sheer number of faculty potentially impacted by a ruling going back that far would be overwhelming," the arbitrator's decision stated.

During the arbitration process, Minnesota State argued the union's position was not supported by its own agreements with the employer.

"(Minnesota State) asserted there is no explicit language anywhere in the contract, nor in any of the predecessor contracts, that supports the union's position," the decision stated. "The employer noted that only once is the term proportional found and that is in an entirely different provision covering part-time work. Neither is there any bargaining history that specifically supports their claims."

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