Re-organizing the organizing campaign

Solidarity is once again the buzz word for University of Alaska classified and administrative, professional and technical (APT) staff.

After calling off a campaign last spring to form a collective bargaining unit, the two groups of staff joined forces as the University of Alaska Staff United and began a new campaign seeking union representation.

Classified staff are defined as nonexempt, hourly wage employees. APT includes exempt employees paid biweekly. Combined, they make up approximately 1,850 of the 7,055 faculty, staff and students employed by UA statewide, said Steve Bouta, chair of the UASU organizing committee.

About two years ago, the two groups of staff receive enough authorization cards to petition for an election. Alaska state law requires a minimum of 30 percent of employees that would be included under the bargaining unit to sign authorization cards requesting an election for a union.

However, the group did not believe they had enough support for a union vote, which requires 50 percent plus one vote to approve a collective bargaining unit.

The group has since united under one identity, provided information and workshops on union representation and in the last week began a new card-signing campaign. They have 120 days to gather 30 percent support, but are shooting for 50 percent in much less time.

“The minute we have 50 percent is the minute we’ll file [for an election],” Jennifer Madsen, field representative for Alaska Public Employees Association and American Federation of Teachers, said.

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Bouta said there is a new momentum among the staff with the issues of compensation, grievance procedures and especially the rise in health care costs topping the list of priorities.

“The rise in employee contributions for health care really got people’s attention,” Bouta said.

He also said that UA salaries have not mirrored the increase in cost of living over the years. Additionally, grievance procedures currently do not involve a third arbitrary party but must be conducted and decided upon by the university. He emphasizes to staff that union representation is not a cure-all, but an effective avenue of communication.

“Collective bargaining is not a magic bullet, but it’s the best way to address the issues,” Bouta said.

Neither Madsen nor Bouta expect much resistance or retaliation from the university during the campaign. Bouta said there may be some surprising “rewards” during the campaign, such as pay bonuses, so staff may think collective bargaining is not necessary. However, he maintains that the relationship is not adversarial or anti-university.

If approved by voters, the UASU union will be the fourth union representing staff and faculty at UA. There are three unions that encompass full-time and adjunct faculty, and Local 6070, which represents crafts and trades employees.

The UASU would encompass all remaining unrepresented staff with the exception of some human resource employees involved in the collective bargaining process and university police.