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The Point: Who Watches the Watchmen?


Greetings, Colleagues:

Last week I pulled the camera way back to try to get a wide-angle shot of some issues surrounding academic free speech around the country. Today, I want to focus in more tightly on our own campus and offer what I hope will be a useful primer on some basic rights you have as a faculty member or librarian at UMB.  Of course the FSU has published a concise statement of contract rights on our website but if you, like me, feel overwhelmed by all you have to read and do, I offer the following as the merest introduction to all that.

I will focus here on the rights of individual FSU members but I would be remiss if I did not begin with something Steve Striffler, our president and also a scholar in labor studies, said to me when I told him my idea for this week’s Point: “it is sometimes the case that inappropriate disciplining action against one union member actually serves as a not-so-veiled threat to the power of the entire unit.”  Such attacks often follow upon some demonstration of the union’s strength—a well-attended rally, say, or the completion of a relatively successful round of bargaining.  Power speaks in many different idioms and as union members we must constantly strive to develop the necessary fluency to understand and to respond appropriately.

The main thing I want to communicate is that you have rights.  Lots of them. These rights are enumerated in a number of different places—in our collective bargaining agreement (aka “the contract”) and in national labor law for starters—that few of us have the time or expertise to parse fully.  But here’s a lifehack that is always worth keeping in mind: at the FSU we have a president, a vice president, a senior staff member, and an MTA field representative who are all expert and responsive. If you have any question about your rights as a UMB employee it is always a good start to email and have Lorenzo Nencioli—the aforementioned senior staff person—apply his wisdom, deep institutional memory, and grasp of the details of our contract as you figure out your best course of action. 

Let me give one example of a right you have on campus having to do with your own protection should you be accused of a contract violation or other offense—and forgive me if this is so rudimentary that it seems insulting to explain.  A 1975 Supreme Court Case established what we now generally refer to as Weingarten rights: what this boils down to is that if you are called to a meeting with a supervisor that you reasonably think might be of an investigatory nature or might have disciplinary consequences, you can bring a union representative with you. Supervisors and management do not have to advise you of this right, so it is really incumbent on each of us to keep the provision in mind. The MTA also has a very good guide to when and how Weingarten rights can be invoked.

Remember too, that our contract has explicit provisions for disciplinary protocols if one of your direct supervisors or a member of upper administration believes that you have failed to meet your responsibilities or can be disciplined or suspended for “just cause.” (see Articles 17 and 18 for language on discipline and dismissal procedures).  The flow chart follows the familiar personnel cascade going from most “local”—the department personnel committee—up through the hierarchy to the provost, chancellor, and president. 

In short, just as we have a clear process for filing grievances, so too must management follow established protocols for discipline: administrators are required, for instance, to seek resolution of any disciplinary matter first through an informal consultative process. When the system is working properly, members of upper administration cannot, for instance, rent an airplane towing a banner over the harbor with a statement of your alleged offense.  If the proper protocols are not followed, you should contact union leaders at so that you can get help figuring out your options. 

Perhaps most important of all is that if you feel your rights under our contract have been abrogated, you can file a grievance: the FSU has a fantastic overview of grievance matters. I can’t possibly list all the possible situations that might trigger a grievance, but the FSU primer lists, just for instance, underpayment, hostile work environment, infringement on academic freedom, and improper course or work assignments.  All dues paying members of the union may also qualify for legal representation from the MTA if they have suffered discrimination rooted in any of a number of protected categories (e.g. race, national origin, gender expression/identity, sexual orientation, age, union and protected concerted activity).

To exercise our rights we must first know our rights.

This is your union: please tell us at what other questions or concerns you have about your rights as a faculty member or librarian on campus.


Jeffrey Melnick (

American Studies Department

Communications Director, Faculty Staff Union Executive Committee

For information on the FSU, links to our contract and bargaining updates, and a calendar of events, see the FSU webpage