On campus beat: Union backers allege U violation

  • Article by: JENNA ROSS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 11, 2012 - 7:30 PM

Graduate assistants at the University of Minnesota have voted down a union, but the fight's not over.

The organization backing a union has filed a charge of unfair election practices with the state. The Graduate Student Workers United/UAW alleges that the university "unlawfully prohibited graduate assistants from exercising their statutory right to engage in union organizing activity."

They point to U websites and letters stating that union organizers "may not solicit in University workplaces during work time."

"When you make it against the rules to talk about forming a union in a context where it would be OK to talk about forming a softball team, you've violated that basic, central right," said Richard Kaspari, the St. Paul attorney representing the group.

In response to the charge against the university, the state Bureau of Mediation Services will look into the matter and may hold a hearing. For now, the election results have been stayed.

About 62 percent of the graduate assistants who voted last month opposed the union. It was the fourth failed try at unionizing the U's graduate assistants since 1990.

Some graduate assistants who oppose the union are portraying this charge as the last-ditch effort of a defeated campaign. Dozens have signed an online petition urging the UAW to "respect the vote and drop the charge against the UMN."

One reason: The filing with the Bureau of Mediation Services re-started a "Maintenance of Status Quo," which is meant to "preserve existing conditions," according to the order.

In an e-mail to graduate assistants this week, the U's Office of Human Resources said that "this means that the University cannot make changes to terms and conditions of employment, including pay increases," until the order is lifted.

Kaspari disputes that claim, too, and argues that any planned pay increases must be honored. "That's an illegal, retaliatory threat," he said.

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168

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