Admin and Staff Move Forward with Union Vote
Danny Reinan, News Editor
After denying the Augsburg Staff Union’s request for voluntary recognition last month, President Paul Pribbenow agreed to an election among university staff to determine whether or not a staff union would be formed with Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU) Local 12.
The unionization process has been ongoing for over a year, organized by staff who are seeking transparency, equitable treatment and a seat at the table in Augsburg’s decision making processes. The campaign has grown in its sense of urgency since COVID-19 brought increased layoffs, furloughs and benefit reductions among staff.
The agreement to a vote is a step forward for the campaign, as staff hope to avoid an election process through the Trump-appointed National Labor Relations Board. This new agreement would be a mail-in ballot overseen by the MN Bureau of Mediation Services, and would likely allow the vote to conclude before the Spring 2021 semester begins in mid-January.
However, Pribbenow said he would only agree to the election under the condition that several amendments be made to the staff union’s election process. Some members of the staff union campaign have expressed anxiety with the administration’s terms.
“The election agreement isn’t perfect,” said Uriah Ward, Financial Aid Counselor and staff union organizer. “It looks like the administration has been following the advice of their expensive union-busting lawyers.”
One of the amendments would limit the staff who are eligible to vote or be included in the union. This would exclude Shared Services staff who are involved with multiple offices such as MN Campus Compact staff and Forum on Workplace Inclusion staff. This would lower the number of staff eligible to unionize from roughly 170 staff to 134 staff. This number would include staff who oversee student workers.
The other amendment demanded a change to the vote counting method of the election. The Augsburg Administration said that all staff who do not return a ballot be counted as having voted “no.”
Under most democratic processes, an outcome is determined by whichever voting option received the majority of votes cast; only the votes cast determine the outcome. This difference in vote counting methods could potentially have significant ramifications for the staff union vote: under the administration’s terms, the staff union would need a simple majority of 68 “yes” votes from eligible staff to proceed.
Despite the uneasiness ahead, Ward still believes that the staff union will be able to secure the vote and forge ahead. “An overwhelming majority of staff are coming together to form this union and we’re excited to finally have a framework in place to make our union official so we can bring about change at the bargaining table. The staff are going to win this election!”