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Faculty Forum Papers

March 1983 Reflections on Faculty Unionization By

Steven T. Buccola
Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics

February 28, 1983

I offer a few reflections on the proposal that on March 9 and 10 we embrace a faculty labor union.

1.     The essence of the proposal is that we surrender the rights that e now possess as individuals (and to a certain extent collectively possess through the Faculty Senate) to negotiate the terms of our employment. Those rights henceforth would belong solely to the union.

2.     By concentrating their bargaining power in the hands of a single agent, workers may improve their incomes if (a) management has some surplus to distribute and (b) management does not respond by concentrating its own bargaining power as well. In the present instance, it is not clear that either (a) or (b) hold. Taxpayer revenues are continually pursued by competing public lobbies and there is no basis for the union's implicit claim that it would provide better lobbying services than those we have presently. Further, administrators would be forced by newly-concentrated union power to centralize their own negotiating functions. The net result could just as well be lower as higher faculty income. Recent give-backs of employee benefits by major industrial labor unions are a clear case in point.

3.     The situation worsens when we consider the costs of operating the union. Many of these costs are the obvious ones financed by union dues, such as those of staffing the union office and contributing to union-selected political campaigns. Other costs are hidden but far greater. They include the increased administrative time required to satisfy bureaucratic procedures mandated in union contracts, which usually are more complicated than those employed without a union. (At the present writing, we have no idea what our contract would look like.) Higher administrative expenses cannot improve prospects for faculty salaries because each competes with the other for a share of the higher education budget.

4.     Most of us, with an ill-developed (or quickly exhaustible) taste for mass politics, would tend to become alienated from the posturings inherent in the bilateral negotiating process. The result would be a shift in power from less politically-oriented to more politically-oriented individuals on campus. Organizers claim that unionization would increase faculty participation in decision making. The truth is it would only put the faculty's portion of decision making into a new and fewer hands, namely into those of union officials and, periodically, of simple voting majorities of union members.

5.     In order to long survive, any labor union eventually must adopt an adversarial tone in its relations with "management." It is the best hope the union has of drawing member's attention to its activities and of attempting to justify dues and payments. Current union literature on campus already bears a distinctive us-them theme. The adversarial tone is appropriate, perhaps, in certain industrial or national political settings. But it is inconsistent with my understanding of how a university should operate: namely, with faculty, department heads, deans, and president sharing not only administrative responsibilities but a common identity and a common purpose. It is no accident that when examples of unionized faculties are brought forth, the names of our nation's best universities do not figure prominently.

6.     Finally, I object to the implication of the collectivization proposal that my department head is my manager and I am his worker. Like most faculty members, I spend a significant portion of my work time on administrative committees and I consider myself a part of management. It would be harmful for departmental relations to raise an artificial legal barrier between department heads or chairmen and other faculty members. When cooperation turns to conflict, our professional productivity and taxpayer's perception of our productivity surely will be the first to suffer.

     Faculty members should realize that they cannot vote against unionization by staying away from the polls. If we oppose unionization, we must walk over to the polls and say so on March 9 and 10. The law states that a majority of voters, not necessarily a majority of faculty, will decide the outcome.