Faculty union organizes for improved working conditions

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Stefanie Gamboa, News Contributor

The new on-campus faculty union, the United Academics of Oregon State University, looks to increase the voice of staff in the decision-making process at OSU.

UAOSU wishes to improve the university for both faculty and students by sharing governance with the OSU administration and addressing a variety of issues including working conditions and academic freedom, according to the union’s mission statement. 

“We were made aware of UAOSU’s efforts to unionize faculty in spring 2017,” Steve Clark, vice president of university relations and marketing, said via email. “On June 27, we learned that the state Employment Relations Board had certified UAOSU as the exclusive bargaining representative of our faculty.”

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Jan Medlock, an associate professor in biomedical sciences and who is part of the union, said the next steps for UAOSU is to identify priorities for bargaining and write bylaws so discussions can begin with the university fall term.

“This is a good way for faculty to collectively stand up and say this is something we want to work toward, and doing that together gives us that much more power,” Medlock said.

Fellow UAOSU member Victor Reyes said collective bargaining between the union and the administration will allow faculty members to bring forward achievable priorities for the university that improve working conditions. Reyes, an ESL instructor for the INTO OSU program, said bargaining allows both the university administration and faculty to set up how the university should operate.

According to Reyes, the financial decisions being made at OSU are not always considering faculty and students. This is shown with faculty being overworked and classes being over packed, Reyes said.

“Right now there are mechanisms in place for faculty members to express their opinions, but there is nothing that requires the administration to actually listen,” Reyes said. “So they listen when our opinions align and when they don’t align. They do what they want and that is a problem.”

Clark said the OSU administration currently shares governance with the university’s Faculty Senate. Representing all academic and administration staff, the senate is made up of 132 elected members who represent faculty on campus. 

“The university engages hundreds of faculty in committees and task forces to advise the university on many important topics, including OSU policies and practices in academic matters and initiatives, such as student success, admissions, public safety, inclusivity, research strategies and much more,” Clark said via email.

According Medlock, the union is currently made up of teaching and research faculty that do not supervise other faculty. Once their signatures can be collected, UAOSU hopes to include supervisors who are not department heads or deans.

With official recognition from the state, UAOSU can begin looking at the collections of issues faculty members want to see addressed and prioritize them, according to Alyssa Halton, an instructor in the College of Liberal Arts
and union member.

“I’m hoping having these structures in place might make it easier for us to make meaningful advances in the right direction,” Halton said. 

Job security is a major issue Halton hopes UAOSU will address, and was part of her rationale for joining the union.

“My husband and I would like to have kids at some point in the next couple years. Trying to plan for that is definitely possible with our current director who is supportive of family-friendly practices,” Halton said. “But the university has issues, such as if I did have to take leave in the middle of the term to give birth, I would stop getting paid.”

Unclassified staff like Halton are allowed up to 60 hours of paid parental leave if they work full-time and have been employed by OSU for at least 180 days, according to the university Paid Parental Leave for Faculty policy.

Reyes said the formation of UAOSU was approved by a majority of faculty members, who share the priority of improving working conditions and education quality by ensuring they have a greater voice in administrative decisions.

“Many faculty members are in this not just for themselves, but because we care about students’ education and want to create an environment that provides the best education possible,” Reyes said. “My working conditions are not what they could be and that is because of decisions that are made without keeping in mind the effect it has on the people in my department and my students.” 

Clark said he hopes for continued collaboration between the union and administration along with an open dialogue.

“The university is committed to the success and professional development of our faculty and advancing faculty excellence at OSU,” Clark said via email. “We look forward to continuing to working with our faculty and now with UAOSU.”

According to Halton, the union is seeking reasonable improvements for the university that can be done in a realistic time frame.

“It can be easy to get disconnected from the idea that our working conditions are students’ learning conditions,” Halton said. “The improvements to job-place expectations for the faculty will allow us to provide better services and support for our students.”

To read more about the union, check out their website.