Faculty cast historic vote to unionizeForty years after UW System faculty started lobbying for the right to bargain collectively, University of Wisconsin-Superior faculty were the first to join the American Federation of Teachers.
By: Shelley Nelson, Superior Telegram
Faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Superior made history Friday.
They became the first in the UW System to approve creating a local chapter of the American Federation of Teachers on campus.
Faculty members voted overwhelmingly in favor of the union. Of the 102 eligible voters, 80 cast ballots – 75 of whom favored the proposal that would give them the right to bargain for work conditions, wages and benefits.
“There are always issues, but it’s been a 40-year campaign,” said Marshall Johnson, a sociology professor and spokesman for the union. “Issues come and go, but this is a big moment for us.”
After 40 years of lobbying, state law was changed last July to allow the approximately 19,700 faculty and academic staff at the UW Systems’ universities, colleges and extensions to collectively bargain for wages and benefits.
“I think it not only allows us to address the issues of the faculty we represent first and foremost, but because the faculty are really stewards for the entire campus … being able to bargain over things like wages, work conditions and such allows us to be closer to the entire community,” Johnson said.
The state law doesn’t give faculty the right to strike nor will they bargain over academic standards, course content, or other curriculum matters. Those are issues of academic freedom and professional responsibility, which are subject to study and agreement with campus administration.
“That’s our interest – finally having a voice for the faculty, a stronger voice,” Johnson said. “We’re also adding a stronger voice for education for our students.
Compensation is likely to be a major issue during negotiations and Johnson looks to use collective bargaining not to increase pay but blunt some of the impact of the furlough policies imposed on state employees. While other state workers, like the assistant district attorneys, had a voice in the furlough policy imposed in the 2009-2011 budget through their unions, faculty and staff in the UW System have had no say in the policy.
While the university had representation through The Association of University of Wisconsin Professors (TAUWP) prior to Friday’s vote, faculty could join the union, but it couldn’t negotiate with administration over working conditions, pay and compensation, or issues affecting the quality of education for students.
“What’s the workload like; that translates directly into outcomes for our students,” Johnson said. “In the past, TAUWP was a strong force for discussing these kinds of issues. The big difference today is … from now forward, TAUWP can work as an equal partner with the University of Wisconsin System. The biggest thing is to strengthen education and the total environment here on campus.”
But UWS isn’t the only campus in the UW System contemplating a union. UW-Eau Claire faculty votes next week on joining the American Federation of Teachers.
“We’re the first, but we’re not going to be the last,” Johnson said. “I see good things happening in Eau Claire very soon.”