Bowling Green State University Faculty Association

By Kelly Hand

The Bowling Green State Uni­versity Faculty Association (BGSU-FA) is a collective bargaining chapter that represents all full-time faculty members at BGSU, a public research university in northwestern Ohio. After the BGSU faculty voted in favor of unionization in 2010, the chapter signed its first con­tract with the university in 2013. A second contract will expire on June 30, 2019, and the chapter has begun the process of negotiating a new agreement for the bargain­ing unit, which currently includes about 750 faculty members.

Beginning with its second contract, BGSU-FA has used interest-based bargaining to address issues and problems with the aim of developing creative consensus solutions rather than working toward compromise between opposing viewpoints and proposals. In the past year, chapter leaders and volunteers have been preparing for negotiations by conducting a member survey, organizing office visits, and building membership—which has increased in the past year from 63 to 78 percent of the bargain­ing unit. BGSU-FA communicated with members in advance of the US Supreme Court’s decision in Janus v. AFSCME and is well positioned to continue advocating effectively on behalf of BGSU faculty in spite of the court’s antiunion ruling.

We learned more about BGSU-FA from chapter leaders.

How have working conditions for the faculty on your campus changed in the years since the formation of BGSU-FA?

Salaries have increased signifi­cantly, and job security, promotion pathways for non-tenure-track faculty, and representation and participation in governance have improved tremendously. But the biggest change is the optimism and hope that come with having a real say in our salaries, benefits, and terms and conditions of employ­ment. If we don’t like something, there is a democratic process to change it. Also, academic due pro­cess is now guaranteed in discipline cases, and this is a monumental improvement from the time before collective bargaining.

What was the impetus for shift­ing to interest-based bargaining? What impact has the approach had on the bargaining unit’s relations with the BGSU administration?

Interest-based bargaining was made possible by the improved relationship between the admin­istration and the union, and by a desire on both sides to continue to build trust and solve problems. This approach presented a com­pelling alternative to traditional bargaining by encouraging collab­orative problem-solving rather than an oppositional, offer-counteroffer dynamic. It’s risky because it involves much less communication with the membership as negotia­tions proceed, but it worked well in negotiating our second contract.

Could you share an example of a problem the negotiating teams for the chapter and the administration have addressed together through interest-based bargaining?

We successfully bargained the terms and conditions of our new winter session to ensure that faculty could not be compelled to teach during the session, that courses could not be distributed to faculty based on track or rank alone, and that faculty who do not teach during winter session should be trusted to carry out their normal professional activities during the winter break. We made concessions by allowing payment for winter session teaching to be prorated in courses that are underenrolled; we also agreed that faculty must be available two days before the start of the spring session for depart­ment and university committee meetings. All of these decisions were made based on the principle of seeking the best solutions to the main issues at hand, rather than through a transactional model of bargaining.

Interest-based bargaining saved us a great deal of money in attor­neys’ fees as well. By developing a better working relationship with the administration, we eliminated the need to have attorneys at the table during negotiations for our second contract. To minimize risk, we have to work on the relation­ship with the administration every day to make sure that trust is not broken.

What role have office visits played in building membership, and what advice would you offer to other chapters about developing a suc­cessful office-visit program?

Office visits are the backbone of a strong union, and there is no better way to build membership. They have played a huge role in building ours and opening up communication between chapter leadership and the bargaining unit. They’re our best way to learn what the membership thinks about the contract and what’s happening in academic units. We advise chapters to utilize a membership coordinator or committee, a department repre­sentative structure, and systematic and accurate record keeping to optimize their office-visit programs.

How has your membership survey helped to shape the agenda for your upcoming contract negotia­tions? What are some key problems or issues your negotiating team would like to address?

Our membership survey provided insight into faculty concerns and generated some (somewhat flawed) data to bring to the bargaining table. Although the survey is a systematic way to learn about the member­ship’s concerns, leadership still has to determine how to balance all the concerns, prioritize them, and get them into contract language. Some key issues for negotiations include salary and compensation, health care (specifically contraceptive cover­age), longer contracts, and access to sabbatical leave for non-tenure-track faculty. We simply must find a way to compensate non-tenure-track faculty adequately and increase their job security.

To what extent is your chapter reconsidering its approach to orga­nizing in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling that agency fee or “fair-share” payments from non­member employees—who are part of the collective bargaining unit but choose not to join the union—are unconstitutional? Have there been any surprises in the response to the Janus decision on your campus?

We are planning to continue organizing as usual, but we have to figure out how to use limited chapter resources to protect the majority of faculty who join, and we need to persuade nonmembers to join. This is best done by having chapter leaders and other volun­teers visit colleagues one at a time both to hear their concerns and to explain to them the benefits of collective bargaining. There have been no major surprise responses except that we actually gained nine members after the Janus decision was announced—and only lost one member!

How can faculty unions move forward and turn a challenging environment for organized labor into an opportunity?

The stark circumstances of big-money forces working to undermine collective action and bargaining—and the resulting higher stakes in the form of in­creased threats to our livelihoods and working lives—should serve as a motivation. Faculty who are inclined favorably toward unions should respond defiantly to the Janus decision by joining their campus chapters and becoming more involved in them. The best place for faculty who want to be activists is right on our own campuses, where we can act upon all of the issues of justice, fairness, equity, and diversity that matter to us. Faculty unionism is bringing democracy to the workplace, where we spend an inordinate amount of our waking hours. Activism in your faculty union is a great way to bring about positive change in the world.

Does your chapter have a story to share? Write to [email protected] to be considered for a chapter profile in Academe.