Rejecting the Dornsife Faculty Vote on Unionization – 5/31/16
I hope you are enjoying your summer. I hate to interrupt it with university business, but I thought it was important to update you about Service Employees International Union Local 721’s objections to your January vote. The NLRB regional office has agreed with SEIU Local 721 that a re-vote on unionization must be held in Dornsife College, on the basis that USC “interfered with the employees’ exercise of a free and reasoned choice” in two ways. First, they claim that I threatened you with the loss of participation in faculty governance, and second, approximately ten faculty members received spring semester raises which the NLRB thought were granted in order to influence the election. I will address my thoughts on these two issues in more detail below.
The date for the new election has not yet been determined; I will let you know as soon as the date is set. Please remember that a majority of those who vote in the election will be regarded by the NLRB as deciding for every Dornsife teaching-track faculty member, so it is important that all eligible faculty cast a vote. Your vote really does matter.
The SEIU Local 721 President issued a press release after the hearing saying about me: “If you engage in illegal union-busting tactics we will hold you accountable.” Language like that shows the kind of adversarial relationship that I have worried about all along. I certainly don’t see myself as a “union buster.” USC recently reached an agreement with the SEIU on a contract for non-professional service employees at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital. Also, the SEIU has requested that bargaining begin soon concerning our International Academy teachers, and we will do so. We have long had union contracts involving different members of our university staff community but as I have said all along, I simply believe that being part of a union fails to serve the best interests of our faculty. All of our faculty play a crucial role in governing this university. They determine the direction the university takes and the fundamental decisions we make. They are managers in this regard, not workers.
The union argued to the NLRB regional office that my conduct “was so aggravated as to create a general atmosphere of fear making a free election impossible.” However, most of my messages that the union claimed created an “atmosphere of fear” in Dornsife College also went to both the International Academy and the Roski School, both of which voted to unionize; the union doesn’t argue that free elections in those units were “impossible.” I hope you agree that their challenge of the Dornsife vote was simply a good tactical approach by the union to gain a re-vote in an election that they lost.
I want to give you two examples of the NLRB regional office’s reasons for calling for a re-vote. In one of my letters to you I explained that “faculty covered by ‘collective bargaining’ will no longer be able to represent themselves or participate in USC faculty governance regarding compensation, benefits, or working conditions.” That is completely true and the NLRB agreed that language was not objectionable. I then created a parenthetical in the same sentence mentioning specifically the Academic Senate, Faculty Councils, and Senate committees. The regional office faulted me for not repeating within the parentheses that I was still talking about compensation, benefits, and working conditions. The regional office construed my not repeating the phrase as a “threat” that I would keep you from committees like honorary degrees, sustainability, and curriculum, if you voted to unionize. Of course this was never my intent.
The NLRB regional office also said that I could keep you from participation in faculty governance because, among other things, “the University does play a role in the selection of faculty members to sit on … the Academic Senate.” You know that is totally untrue as the Dornsife Faculty Council (currently almost all teaching-track faculty) elects the College’s Academic Senate representatives, and the same happens in every other school. The University does not select faculty for, or prevent faculty from, being elected by their colleagues to Faculty Councils and to the Academic Senate. “At the very least, the University sends letters to faculty soliciting their involvement,“ the NLRB’s reasoning went, referring to the annual call for self-nominations for committees that the Senate President and I send out jointly. This leads me to believe that the NLRB, like the union, does not really understand how an elected Academic Senate works. It also misses the point implicit in those letters that the University partners with faculty in shared governance, and needs faculty leadership to realize our full potential.
I think you know that I believe strongly in faculty governance and that I have not made threats; nor did I interfere with your “free and reasoned choice.” You know that the Academic Senate and I have worked very collaboratively since I became Provost. For example, I’ve written to you about my support of the Senate resolutions on issues including faculty salaries and employment conditions for both full-time and part-time faculty.
It seems to me that it is actually the union, not me, that has been arguing against faculty governance. As I mentioned above, SEIU Local 721 is trying to displace faculty governance as your exclusive representative on terms and conditions of employment. In addition, the union has filed charges and objections with the NLRB, some of which were dismissed or withdrawn, and some of which are still pending. In these charges and objections, SEIU Local 721 claimed it was improper that Academic Senate President Ginger Clark invited Dornsife faculty to contact her with their concerns, despite her role as the lead representative for faculty interests; that the previous Senate President John Silvester and I sent last Spring’s joint letter inviting faculty to self-nominate for committees; that the chair of the Senate Non-tenure-track Faculty Committee responded to a part-time faculty member’s concerns; and that Roski part-time faculty elected a governance committee and a representative to the Roski Faculty Council. So, at the same time the union claims I threatened faculty governance, it has litigated to undermine it.
There was another argument that SEIU Local 721 raised to set aside your vote. As of January 1, 2016, California state law raised the dollar threshold for a faculty member to be paid a salary covering all hours worked, rather than being paid hourly. Dornsife had approximately ten faculty whose pay was just below the new threshold, and so we raised their pay enough to keep them salaried and not required to report their weekly hours. The NLRB regional office failed to appreciate why we would want to continue those faculty on a salaried basis, sparing them from having to report hours. Instead the NLRB regional office accepted the SEIU argument that the increase to that handful of people was actually an attempt to influence the election.
You may wonder why I want to uphold the will of the majority in the January Dornsife election, but I have not accepted the results in Roski. Before a labor organization can unionize a faculty unit, in addition to gaining a majority of those voting, the union has to overcome the U.S. Supreme Court decision in NLRB v. Yeshiva University. That case held that faculty are managers because of shared governance and therefore cannot be unionized. As I wrote to you earlier, International Academy teachers do not participate in university committees and have no Faculty Council nor Senate representative; therefore, USC accepted that they were not a part of governance, were not managers, and thus could be unionized. The union has asked that bargaining start soon, and we have agreed. However, Roski teaching-track faculty are full participants in faculty governance — representing the school in the Academic Senate, chairing and holding most of the seats on the Roski Faculty Council, and serving on key university-level committees. We will vigorously defend the principle that our teaching-track faculty are partners with tenured faculty in USC’s faculty governance; therefore, we are appealing the regional office’s decision to have a Roski election and, if necessary after that, will seek a definitive decision by a federal court.
Over the summer, SEIU Local 721 staff may continue to come to your homes or offices. The NLRB requires us to turn over home addresses, personal email addresses, and cell phone and home phone numbers for all eligible voters. You continue to be free to speak to the union staff or not, as you choose.
I will keep you updated on any new developments on this issue as they come in.
You have my best wishes for a summer that is both productive and refreshing.