UW faculty opposes unionization, cite fees and bureaucracy

242 professors at the University of Washington, representing 4% of the faculty, have so far added their names to a petition against unionizing the school’s faculty.

The group organizing the petition calls itself UW Excellence. Professors Paul Hopkins and Ed Lazowska began the initiative to encourage faculty to consider the actual impact of unionization on the university and not vote based on “whether each of us does or does not support the general concept of represented labor.” Hopkins and Lazowska are encouraging faculty members to fix their name to a “Statement of Opposition to Unionization of the Faculty at the University of Washington.”

Lazowska told the Seattle Times that “On balance, this simply doesn’t seem to be an environment where the possible benefits of unionization outweigh the likely drawbacks.”

A proposal to form a union under the Service Employees International United (SEIU) has gained traction this year. The University of Washington system has a faculty of approximately 6,000. Under state law, in order to hold a vote to unionize, at least 30% of the university faculty members must sign a union membership card. The subsequent election then requires a simple majority regardless of voter turnout.

The possibility that a minority of faculty could make a decision that forces all 6,000 faculty members to pay union dues to the SEIU factors prominently among the opposition.

UW Excellence claims that union fees of $1,000 would be required of all 6,000 faculty members regardless of the turnout in the vote. If a professor were instead to invest the annual fee modestly, it could amount to over $60,000 over 35 years. “We live in an era when most of us avoid mutual funds that charge even a tenth of a percent too high a management fee; the union fee we would pay in perpetuity is a much higher percentage of our salary.”

Moreover, opponents argue that in addition to handing money to a union that is mostly known for representing health care workers, that it will actually inhibit the voice of faculty in managing the university.

“It is simply a reality that the relationship of administration to union will be adversarial rather than collaborative,” argues UW Excellence, “It is hard to imagine that this will not negatively impact administration-faculty interactions.”

Faculty currently participate in the university’s governance by participating in a system of “shared governance” under which professors participate in university decision-making committees. The Daily UW, a student newspaper at the school, reported that university president Ana Mari Cauce expressed in an e-mail that unionization would “eclipse the collaborative approach we have worked on for generations.”

Furthermore, UW Excellence argues that the SEIU has a “one-sided political affiliation” and that having the union represent all faculty members would “artificially align” them with the Democratic Party, which opponents argue is “inappropriate” and could negatively affect the university’ public perception, especially among Republicans.

The pro-unionization camp concedes that the decision to unionize under the SEIU, which primarily represents health care workers, was political. On its website, the pro-union group UW Faculty Forward claims that “the existing strength of SEIU in Washington State, with more than 100,000 members, means that we would immediately attain a major voice in state politics and higher education legislation.”

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