In response to fears of state funding cut backs and the University’s fiscal strain, non-faculty workers at the University, including clerical, janitorial and other service-based employees, are considering rounding up the approximately 1,100 signatures required for Union membership cards — the first step in joining the Union of Professional Office Workers.
The clerical workers have good reason to take this action. Unlike faculty members, who are protected not only by tenure, but by various unions, including the Michigan Federation of Teachers and School Related Personnel, University office workers have absorbed the greater part of the administrative downsizing with 395 jobs already being cut because of the University’s failure to replace open clerical positions. In addition to overburdening workers, the vacancies have created a looming sense of insecurity among the clerical staff, which has compelled the office workers to unionize.
Along with future job cuts, workers also fear their benefits may suffer. Complaints have already surfaced about poor parking, low raises and rising health care premiums. Cuts in these already-meager benefits are more likely than an increase in layoffs, especially considering the high turnover rate and temporal nature of non-faculty employment.
Without the benefits of a collective bargaining agreement, the workers “really don’t have a voice,” says Brenda Falkowski, Law School secretary and member of the unionization initiative. Yet past efforts to form a union among clerical workers has failed in the past have faltered.
Talks to revive the union initiative have been going on for the last few months among the organizing committee, consisting of Falkowski and about 30 others. If successful, the 3,700 nonfaculty jobs would become a part of the Union of Professional Office Workers, known as U-POWER, which, if created, would be the ninth union represented on campus.
University office workers have every indication — whether it be the grim nature of the Michigan economy or the looming insecurity surrounding the jobs of office workers — that their jobs and benefits will be the first to go. It is important that these workers do not suffer the brunt of the state government’s $43 million dollar budget cut in University funding.
In the wake of last year’s successful union organization by the Lecturer Employees’ Union, the Michigan Federation of Teachers, and the School Related Personnel — collective organization has proven reliable in securing jobs and benefits. Furthermore, unionization has often created the conditions for peaceful negotiation. For example, last year, after a one-day strike, the Federation was able to negotiate its first contract with the University. Non-faculty workers would not be remiss in continuing this successful trend. With job security and benefits at stake, clerical workers should unionize as fast as possible.