EOU faculty unionized in 2003 by a six-vote margin. But it wasn’t until June 2005 that we signed our first contract. A decertification election was requested by faculty opposed to the union. In that election, the faculty voted 75-36 to affirm AAP.
An Account by Kathleen Dahl (retired EOU faculty)
Organizing: In 2002-2003, a small group of faculty began meeting in a private home to discuss the possibility of unionizing. EOU already had a salary formula, but salaries were extremely low and it was not clear if the formula was equitably applied. There were other issues, like our professional librarians being on 1-year contracts instead of tenure-track, assistant professor contracts, like “real” universities. The Oregon office of the American Federation of Teachers sent over a little bulldog of an organizer (Brett?) to work with us. In fact, numerous AFT-OR people drove all the way across the state many times to help us.
We determined who should be in our bargaining unit. I can’t remember all the considerations, but we decided it should include anyone who taught at least 3 credits on campus (many unions limit it to half time or more) and the librarians. We did not include people who only teach distance courses because it was already difficult enough to organize people we saw every day in person, but categories of personnel can be added to a bargaining unit, something I don’t believe AAP has ever tried. We had meetings and built momentum, and got a majority of faculty and librarians to sign cards, which are essentially votes to unionize. These were presented to EOU President Phil Creighton, who took it personally and later left for another job. “Management” in both the private and public sectors has the option of accepting the will of the workers without further struggle, but they never do! In this case, management meant the Chancellor’s office, so even if EOU’s administrators were amenable, they had to reject us.
What followed was a more formal vote to unionize, supervised by the state Employment Relations Board. Each side campaigned, held meetings and forums, etc. By each side, I mean pro and anti members of our proposed bargaining unit. Management is supposed to stay out of it. A small group of mostly older, well-established faculty were vocally anti-union. A larger group of faculty had not signed cards, but didn’t overtly oppose the union. They were the big question mark.
We voted by mail (February 2003), just like a real election. The ballots were opened by the ERB, witnessed by us and the administration. Each side is allowed to challenge the ballots of people they think should not be in the bargaining unit. Those ballots are set aside. If they would affect the final vote, the two sides can then start fighting over them. (We had earlier held hearings before the ERB to establish our bargaining unit.)
Management challenged 5 ballots of the various division chairs, of which I was one! They said we were administrators even though that was only 1/3 of our time. As it turns out, the pro-union vote was ahead by ONE for the remaining ballots. Management knew that the 5 ballots they had challenged were probably “yes” votes and agreed to allow them to be counted. So we won by 6 votes! It was the first time in 20 years that any OSU faculty had unionized, and they were shocked it was little EOU!
Bargaining for the first contract began soon after. The Chancellor’s office sent a representative, Joe somebody, to lead the administration’s team, and we had our organizer as part of our team.
A year later, the group of anti-union faculty called for a do-over, which is their right. They hoped to decertify the union. The vote is like a regular unionizing vote, yes if you want a union, no if you don’t. Again, the ballots were mailed to the ERB and counted with witnesses. This time, the vote was 75 to 36 in favor of keeping the union. We had whipped the votes and knew we were in good shape, but we were still thrilled!