Collective Bargaining on Campus

By Schrecker, Ellen | Academe, November/December 1998 | Go to article overview

Collective Bargaining on Campus


Schrecker, Ellen, Academe


THIS ISSUE OF ACADEMEIS TALKING UNION. THOUGH SOME 130,000 professors belong to collective bargaining units (including 47 percent of the AAUP's members), the rest of us know little about what these unions do. For an earlier generation, no doubt, the very notion of a faculty union may well have been an oxymoron. Universities were not businesses, and academics felt uncomfortable with the adversarial relationships they believed characterized the industrial world. Even today, many professors recoil at collective bargaining. The stereotypes retain their power. We tend to associate unions with manual labor and with the beer-bellied, cigar-puffing business agents who siphon off pension funds to the Mafia while cutting sweetheart deals with the bosses. Academics, meanwhile, are perceived (and often see themselves) as impractical intellectuals, insulated from economic reality by tenure and far too unworldly to negotiate a contract.

Wrong. Not only does today's labor movement, as Stanley Aronowitz shows, contain more teachers than steelworkers, but academics are increasingly turning to unions to protect their professional autonomy as well as their benefits and paychecks. Collective bargaining reached the academy in the 1960s, just when public employees were starting to organize. Though the AAUP held back at first, it finally endorsed unionization in 1971, after several chapters were already bargaining. Unions seemed to be the wave of the future, and the Association did not want to be stranded on the beach.

But that future never came. As Deborah Malamud explains, the Supreme Court's 1980 decision in National Labor Relations Board v. Yeshiva University rendered collective bargaining out of the question for professors at most private colleges and universities. Even so, unionization continues among faculty in the public sector, though it has not been easy to achieve. …

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