UMN graduate-assistant union group accuses U of unfair election practices


I’ve posted before about charges exchanged between the University of Minnesota administration and the group trying to form a graduate-assistant union — each claiming the other was acting unfairly during the unionization campaign.

Now unionization supporters are claiming — as they did in January — that the U has been trying to silence talk of a union on campus.

They’ve filed a charge of unfair election practices (above). It says the U was “targeting and restricting” union organizing starting last fall through the week of the election.

In essence, it says the U continued to tell students unlawfully that union organizers were not allowed to speak to them about unionizing. The organizers state that they had the right to do so.

They said the U’s actions affected the outcome of the election, which the union lost by a vote of 62%-38%.

(I have the U’s reaction in an update farther down in the story.)

Scott Thaller, spokesman of the union supporters, told me:

“The university broke the law when it told the graduate assistants that they could not discuss forming a union in their workplace.”

The U’s Web site states:

Union representatives attempting to organize public employees are governed by certain restrictions. Union organizing representatives may only enter public spaces of the employer and employee break areas. No union organizer or employee may enter a work area and interrupt the work of any employee for the purposes of oral solicitation or the distribution of literature. Union representatives may only interact with employees during the employees’ non-work time. Non-work time is defined as mealtime, breaks, and the hours before and after the shift. Solicitation includes oral discussion and distribution of union literature.

Update: Here’s a memo from the union group:

———- Forwarded message ———-

From: GSWU-UAW

Date: Wed, Apr 11, 2012 at 11:15 PM

Subject: Election Charges

To: gswu-uaw@qwestoffice.net

Dear Graduate Assistants,

As you’ve all seen, the University recently sent out an email stating that GSWU/UAW has filed a charge of unfair election practices with the Bureau of Mediation Services. This is true. The University broke the law when they told Graduate Assistants that they could not discuss forming a Union in their workplaces. The Bureau of Mediation Services will inform us regarding the progress of next steps in the process. Until the charges have been addressed the maintenance of status quo order has been reinstated.

The University has also broken the law by threatening to withhold expected pay increases as a result of the status quo order. The status quo order requires the University to implement expected wage increases and to continue processes used to determine wage increases.

We urge the University to cease misrepresenting the application of the status quo order and to respect the legal processes that protect the rights of Graduate Assistants to freely organize and form their union.

GSWU/UAW

For context, here’s the union’s letter from January:


Thaller confirmed U’s statement that “the Bureau of Mediation Services has stayed the election results pending an investigation of and ruling on the charges.”

An MPR reporter has a call out to the U’s general counsel.

Update: U says it still hasn’t found someone to talk to us about this.

Update: Here’s the U’s official statement, which it e-mailed to me:

The University is disappointed in the United Auto Workers of America/GSWU decision to file a Charge of Unfair Election Practices.

Throughout the election, the university followed the legal process and made every effort to ensure a fair and accurate vote, and our graduate assistants voted against union representation by a large margin. In the coming weeks, we will work with the Bureau of Mediation Services as they investigate this new charge, taking into consideration information from both the university and the union. Despite this new development, our focus has been and continues to be moving forward in a collaborative way to ensure the best possible program for our graduate assistants.

  • hftfiawh

    Oh for heaven’s sake — they went down (for the fifth time in 20 years) by nearly a 2 to 1 margin, and they REALLY want to gnaw on this bone? Time to move on…

    • Ilana Percher

      That the administration’s interests were supported in this and past elections would make it appear that there is no mandate for change.  However, I was a recipient of administration’s anti-union propaganda, and found the abundance of poor quality and deliberately misleading information to be insulting.  The administration has escaped accountability to the graduate assistants by way of a union this time, but it is still accountable for its behavior under the law.

  • rajan_v

    If I could re-write the headline, it would read “UAW spends over $500,000 on failed 2012 unionization attempt, spends another $10,000 on a last-ditch effort to get some return.”

    It’s funny that the UAW is claiming that the U violated laws regarding union organizing activities. The truth is that almost every graduate student was harassed in some way, and we all had enough. The proof? Almost a 2:1 margin against GSWU, as noted previously. The only way the University influenced the election was by irritating some on-the-fence voters into voting for the union (as a result of poorly-conceived anti-union emails).

    • Ilana Percher

      I see, so communication on the issue of grad assistant unionization can be anywhere from an irritation to harassment.  Is the idea here that the bargaining unit is primarily comprised of sociopaths?