Looking to Unionize

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), March 24, 2012 | Go to article overview

Looking to Unionize


Byline: The Register-Guard

Is organized labor making a comeback? There are some indications that may be the case. After losing nearly 1.4 million members over the two previous years, labor unions gained 50,000 new members last year, bringing to 14.8 million the number of unionized workers in the United States.

The share of workers covered by collective bargaining agreements edged up only slightly - to 11.9 percent from 11.8 percent the year before, primarily due to the loss of public employee union members to state and local government budget cuts. During the 1950s unions covered a third of all U. S. workers; by 1983 the number had dropped to 20 percent, and to 11.4 percent in 2010.

In recent years public employee unions have grown to include more than a third of all eligible government workers and now account for slightly more than half of all unionized employees. That growth has been attributed in part to state and local governments being less resistant than private employers to union organizing, but it's also been a result of concerted efforts by public employee groups to organize their fellow workers under union contracts.

University of Oregon faculty members are in the process of unionizing the university's 1,900-member instructional staff as the United Academics of the University of Oregon, which would be affiliated with the American Association of University Professors and the American Federation of Teachers. On March 13, leaders of the organizing effort turned in more than a thousand signed cards to the state Employment Relations Board, requesting official recognition as the exclusive bargaining agent for UO teachers - tenured and non-tenured - and all researchers and post-doctoral scholars (the university's 1,300 graduate teaching assistants are already represented, by the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation).

If the ERB decides the proposed group constitutes an "appropriate" bargaining unit, and if it agrees that organizers have collected the valid signatures of more than half of those who would be covered by the proposed union, it may certify the UAUO as the faculty's exclusive bargaining representative. If more than 30 percent of the employees to be covered petition for a secret ballot election, the ERB would order that an election be held.

The UO faculty has long resisted forming a union, and that used to be the mainstream thinking among faculty across the country.

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