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Why Be a Member of a Union?

Why Be a Member of a Union?

Fall 2015

Marlene Kim, FSU President

What does the FSU do for you?

Nationally, union members have higher wages and greater benefits (especially pensions and health care).  Many non-tenure track faculty across the country, for example, do not have health care benefits and access to the employer’s pension plan, when they are not unionized. 

Unions also reduce inequality within firms, mostly by raising the pay of those at the bottom.  Long-time non-tenure track faculty at UMass, for example, have livable salaries as a result of our union contract. 

But the most important benefit of having a union is that unions protect you from the unilateral authority of management, by having rules and contracts that address matters such as working conditions, work load and layoffs.  Changes in working conditions must be negotiated and agreed to by the union.  Management cannot simply impose these. 

Most of all, unions provide a voice for workers.  If there are problems with your working conditions, if your workload increases, if you are not treated right, you can complain and file a grievance, and the union can represent you and seek a remedy that meets your concerns.  Otherwise, without a union, if you complain about a problem, you can be fired. Without union protections, you are employed at the whim of the university and can be terminated if they don’t like you or what you said.

Unions also give you equal power with management when bargaining or handling grievances.  At a meeting to discuss your grievance, the union representative is equal to the university representative.  Whatever the union says is protected, and the union representative cannot be fired for arguing for different working conditions or benefits or disagreeing with the university.  Without a union, as an individual complaining, you can be fired.  But with a union, the union’s voice that expresses workers’ concerns cannot be silenced.  It must be listened to. 

Legally, this gives unionized workers power, which delivers the higher wages and greater benefits for members. 

Just in the past couple of years, FSU has achieved the following:

• Generous raises of 3.5% per year for three years (1.4% of this merit)

•  Successfully fought off give-backs (giving up benefits we had that management insisted we give up)

•  Secured retroactive pay to July 1, 2014 when this contract started (management had refused to pay the first 10 months of the raises agreed to in the new contract). For a faculty member earning $60,000, that translates to over $800 in back pay for the cost of raise living portion alone.

•  Prevented the administration from raising parking fees to $10.

•  Prevented the health care premium cost share you pay from increasing (see here for more information).

•  Represented scores of faculty in grievances, including a tenured faculty who was fired (we are fighting the administration so that she keeps her job).

•  Represented scores of non-tenure track faculty who were paid below the contract-mandated salary floors, resulting in payouts to members totaling over $250,000.

•  Retained an additional $1000 in travel funds for faculty per year.

If you are an FSU member, you are eligible for free liability insurance (if you are sued by a student, for example) and are eligible for free legal services.  You do not have access to this if you are not a member.   You can also itemize union dues payments on your taxes.  

Please let us continue to help you by becoming a member of the FSU if you are not already one.  Your dues helped fund the lobbying that helped deliver your retro pay and prevented your health care premium cost share from increasing.

Marlene Kim is FSU President.  She is also a labor economist, former union staff member (for SEIU and the Labor Center at UC Berkeley), and teaches the course Unions and Collective Bargaining at UMass Boston.  Much of this material comes from her course lecture for this class.   

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