Recently, the University announced plans to reclassify approximately 18,000 staff positions — those currently classified in the professional/administrative, technical, office and allied health job families — at the University’s three campuses and its health system. The University maintains the reclassification is necessary to re-align University jobs with private-market titles and make it easier to define pay. The idea, however, while probably a good one, must be enacted with meticulous concern for employees’ rights.
The University argues that the reclassification plan will not hinder office workers’ attempts to unionize, but those involved in the office workers’ unionizing effort beg to differ. Members of the Union of Professional Office Workers organizing committee vary on how and to what extent the reclassification plan will influence U-POWER’s efforts to organize. According to Mike Wilkins of the organizing committee, after the University’s reclassification program takes effect, many more people will qualify as office workers, and therefore U-POWER would have to gain more signatures to become an official union. In order for U-POWER to evolve from a labor-organization movement into an actual union, it must obtain the signatures of at least 50 percent of its intended members. Without a union, many office workers claim, the University could easily strip benefits, pay and positions in an attempt to cut costs.
With all of the confusion surrounding the University’s job reclassification plan and its effect on U-POWER, the University should hold forums with all of the affected workers and comprehensively explain what reclassification entails and how it will affect the workers. Hopefully, this will clear up any questions and doubts that University workers have been raising over the reclassification plan. The University should also invite representatives of U-POWER to these forums and allow them to explain their vision for the office worker union. The forums will provide a necessary method of direct communication between the University, U-POWER and workers. The valid concerns held by office workers — about unionization and job security — must be addressed openly before reclassification is allowed to progress.
Many years have passed since the University last reclassified jobs. With the evolution of the private sector, it has become increasingly necessary for University worker titles to accurately reflect modern positions. However, after reclassification forums are held, the University should allow its workers to determine, by an up-or-down vote, whether or not they want their jobs reclassified. After learning precisely what effects reclassification will have on their economic well-being and job security, the University’s workers will be the most qualified determinants of reclassification’s effect on their lives. Similarly, the University should be up front with U-POWER regarding how many workers will need to sign union membership cards if reclassification is approved. If the University truly believes it is acting in the best interests of its workers, it should have no problem agreeing to the education forums, reclassification approval vote and unionization of University office workers.