Augsburg Staff Union Makes History for Minnesota Private Colleges
Danny Reinan, news editor
After months of organizing and campaigning, the Augsburg University staff officially unionized, solidifying them as the first non-managerial private university staff to unionize in Minnesota.
The union organizing committee began a voting process overseen by the Bureau of Mediation Services (BMS) last month after being denied voluntary recognition by Augsburg administration in November, and won in a majority vote of 63%, with 85 “yes” votes from the 134 staff in the bargaining unit.
This victory was achieved through a campaign that faced additional challenges due to COVID-19, necessitating that staff campaign and connect remotely. Max Poessnecker, Augsburg’s LGBTQIA+ Student Services Director, Equity & Inclusion Initiatives Coordinator and union organizing committee member, said that the campaign’s success was “astounding” given that it was conducted over Zoom and email. “Considering the level of labor and energy it took to have these conversations with, many times, people we’ve never met, and assess their level of interest over Zoom, and conduct a vote under a digital mailing process is a lot of work,” he said.
The pandemic also prevented the staff from gathering and voting in-person like they normally would. “The only people allowed in the space was Augsburg’s lawyer and our union representative,” said Poessnecker. Instead, a few staff had a social distanced gathering in the BMS parking lot while the votes were being counted, waiting with bated breath for the results to come in and deriving as much joy as possible from them. “We were living vicariously through a text message,” said Poessnecker.
However, for many staff, the victory has yet to resonate completely. The vote was secured only one day after the violent attack on the US capitol earlier this month, leading to a hazy mix of emotions. “Emotionally, I don’t think it has sunk in yet,” said Annie Chen, the Program Assistant for TRIO and union organizing committee member. “So much of the world doesn’t feel real right now, for me this is just another one of them.”
The organizing committee will be sending out a survey to all newly unionized staff that will narrow down what staff are hoping to see in an initial contract. After the survey data has been collected, the organizing committee will disband and a Contract Action Team (CAT) will be formed to negotiate the new contract with administration. This entire process will be democratic and dictated by staff votes.
“I was talking to a friend who works for a union and his response was ‘Now comes the hard part!’” said Chen. “One of the initial changes I hope to see is better retention, especially among staff of color. Having a seat at the table and making sure decisions are made with us instead of about us will be a crucial change in seeing this happen.”
Poessnecker is not only thinking about the next steps for Augsburg, but also looking to the surrounding community in light of the union’s landmark win. “This is historic for us,” he said. “Augsburg is the first private college in MN – potentially even across the midwest – to have non-managerial staff unionize. I think this will continue to set a precedent for what unions can look like and what unions can do at Augsburg.”