University of Northern Iowa United Faculty

By Kelly Hand

The University of Northern Iowa United Faculty was established as an AAUP collective bargaining chapter in 1976 after the Iowa General Assembly approved Chapter 20, the law regulating collective bargaining by public-sector unions in the state. Chapter 20 put an end to a period of strikes and enabled public employees to negotiate contracts that addressed a broad range of topics, including compensation, overtime pay, benefits, working conditions, and evaluation procedures. The General Assembly gutted Chapter 20 in 2017, making base wages the only mandatory topic of negotiation for all public employees except those working in “public safety.” While some previously mandatory topics became “permissible,” others became “prohibited,” making it impossible for unions to negotiate contracts that include benefits such as health insurance and retirement. Changes to the law require bargaining units to hold recertification elections and win approval of the majority of the unit’s members prior to negotiating every new contract.

United Faculty, which represents all full-time faculty at UNI, has prevailed in this hostile climate for collective bargaining, winning its first recertification election in October 2018 with 97 percent of voting bargaining unit members casting an affirmative vote to recertify the union. A dedicated team of union leaders and department liaisons mobilized eligible faculty before the vote. The stakes were high because neutrality was not an option: the changes to the law mean that votes not cast are now counted as votes against the union. As in other unionized chapters, faculty members in the bargaining unit can choose whether to join the AAUP chapter as full members. The current bargaining unit of 646 includes about 230 AAUP members, but this successful recertification campaign—in which more than three hundred nonmembers voted in favor of the union—built a foundation for increasing membership numbers in the future. United Faculty began negotiations for a new contract in late 2018 and is working to convince nonmembers that supporting the union as a dues-paying member is the best way to serve the interests of faculty and students. The union’s success can serve as an inspiration to collective bargaining chapters grappling with the impact of the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Janus v. AFSCME—which deemed it unconstitutional for public-sector unions to charge nonmembers for their fair share of the cost of negotiating a contract—and the threat of future attacks on organized labor.

We learned more about United Faculty from chapter president Becky Hawbaker, vice president Carissa Froyum, and executive committee member and liaison committee chair Kyle Rudick.

What was the immediate impact of the antiunion changes to Iowa’s labor law in 2017? How did United Faculty work to mitigate that impact and refocus the union’s priorities?

We lost forty-one pages of our forty-two-page contract, leaving a hole in our faculty governance structure. Issues that we had bargained for decades, including grievance procedures, insurance, and faculty evaluation procedures, were deleted from our contract. We also lost payroll deduction for membership dues, essentially wiping out our financial infrastructure.

The threat to our union and faculty governance was immediate and severe. But we got to work the same day, building relationships with the entire faculty, the administration, and the university senate and faculty chairs. In collaboration with the administration, we drafted a new faculty handbook, which included most of the provisions of our old contract and new provisions that we had not been able to agree on in the past. A handbook doesn’t have the same legal protections as a contract. But the preservation of past agreements in the handbook, including our grievance procedures, was a major victory for us and marked a turning point in our relationship with the administration.

We also began rebuilding our membership. With guidance and on-the-ground organizing support from AAUP Midwest lead organizer Kira Schuman, we created a new liaison structure for our union. We started conducting office visits, listening to concerns, and signing up members, one at a time.

The apparent intention of the recertification requirement is to undermine the power of unions or even to destroy them. What do you think its long-term implications will be for United Faculty and how can you counteract them?

Under the contract, we could use legal means to remedy conflicts. Our capacity to do that has been greatly diminished, so we have developed different tactics. Our power now comes from the faculty: we are organized, engaged, and care about what is happening on our campus. Faculty know that we will protect shared governance and academic freedom and help them through whatever workplace issues they encounter. Because we have the faculty behind us, we have political power that allows us to take a stand when we need to.

Additionally, we have worked hard to build a trusting relationship with the administration. And we have become experts in writing policy! We do the work of shared governance.

You succeeded in securing the support of many eligible nonmembers in your recertification vote. What did you learn in reaching out to them that might help United Faculty build its membership base and better serve the bargaining unit?

Communication with members and nonmembers needs to go beyond email and social media. We have begun to think of office visits as an opportunity both to listen to faculty and to highlight the tangible victories our union has secured despite the hostile legal environment. Going forward, face-to-face interactions with members and nonmembers will be central to all of our organizing efforts.

United Faculty’s cooperative relationship with the current UNI administration has enabled the union to continue having a say in matters disallowed from formal collective bargaining. What are the pros and cons of this arrangement?

The pros are clear. In the last several years, our joint faculty-administration committees have written a faculty handbook, drafted a modified duties policy and new evaluation procedures for faculty, and developed a new merit system. We have also conducted a salary equity study on campus, addressed salary inequities, and instituted policy changes to ensure continued equity. And we have resolved scores of issues faced by individual faculty members, from needing to take medical leave to disputes with department heads.

The biggest con is that the collaborative work we have done can be undone at any moment. For example, the administration legally could rewrite evaluation procedures without us, although it would be unwise to do so. It might appear that we are dependent on the administration or that our power is diminished, but in reality, we are interdependent—the administration benefits from its relationship with us, too.

What have you done to address the needs and concerns of faculty on contingent appointments and to involve them in the union?

We have made a concerted effort in the past two years to listen to non-tenure-track faculty members—who make up roughly 40 percent of the faculty at UNI—and prioritize the issues they face. While the majority of the bargaining unit and its officers are on the tenure track, we have two non-tenure-track faculty members on our union executive board. They have full voting rights, and, unlike other members of the board, they are paid for their work because this service isn’t a component of their contracts. On top of our office visits, we have held several open forums with non-tenure-track faculty about the issues they face.

We have sought policy solutions as well. We have designed a career ladder for non-tenure-track faculty that will include two additional levels of promotion, secured recognition of and compensation for otherwise invisible service work, extended contracts to provide more stability, and shifted faculty into longer-term contracts whenever possible. The administration has worked with us on all of these issues. We are also working with our university senate and faculty chairs to extend full voting rights to full-time non-tenure-track faculty.

Given the limited scope of collective bargaining in Iowa, what are your priorities for the current contract negotiations?

 Our top priority is getting our faculty a salary increase that rewards them for the critical work they do on behalf of the state of Iowa. Our other priorities are to restore in the contract the grievance chapter of the faculty handbook as well as language on leaves, modified duties, and promotions for non-tenure-track faculty—all permissible topics that we have addressed in collaboration with the administration.

What can AAUP members in other chapters learn from your experience?

Chapter leaders need to listen seriously and sensitively to members. Doing so guarantees not only that the union is well-informed and responsive to constituents’ concerns, but also that it practices the type of democratic ethos that we strive to model.

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