Hamline Union Update

Hi, folks –

Wish I could say I’m hitting stride after a lazy summer, but it’s more like I’m scrambling with fall’s frenzy after a summer filled with its own share of chaos. Such is life for many of us who juggle teaching into the mix of lives already brimful with other jobs, family, and a host of interests and commitments. Anyway, having been duly elected your steward at a union meeting in late August, I want to try (every two weeks … more or less) to serve up a bowl of “union stew” to keep you abreast of what happening—and how you can be involved. Here’s your first bowl:

A changing of the guard. As many of who know, last spring Hamline retained outside representation (a.k.a. “a third party”) through Tom Trachsel of the law firm Felhaber Larson in their effort to keep us from organizing ourselves into a union (which the administration repeatedly characterized as our wanting to bring “a third party” into the mix.) Felhaber Larson, you may recall, was the “third party” representation brought in by the Minnesota Orchestra, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and Crystal Sugar—in each case counseling employers into strikes and lockouts that were devastating. As I sometimes tell my students, it can be hard to define “irony” until you see it in practice.

Of course, we managed to unionize despite the administration’s hopes otherwise, and near the end of the summer, just as we were seeking clear info from Hamline about fall hires and starting the bargaining process, they switched law firms, retaining Gray Plant Mooty, a firm equally ardent in protecting employer power when employees seek to organize (in fact, GPM advised the University of St. Thomas when adjuncts sought to unionize there). Hamline’s new “third party” attorney from GPM is Mark Mathison, a lawyer who currently specializes in helping colleges and universities avoid unions. Mark is a nice guy; I’ve met him twice now. But his job is to help Hamline hold onto as much power as they can throughout negotiations. He is very good at what he does.

This late summer changing of the guard had the effect of slowing down our several information requests, but things have been trickling in, and most of what we wanted as background for negotiations is now available to us. In mid-September our elected bargaining team (Jen Beckham, Jhon Wlaschin, Gabrielle Rose, Adam Lindberg, and myself) met with Carol Nieters (our Local 284 Executive Director) and Haley Leibowitz (our SEIU dedicated staff assistant) to prepare for bargaining.

First contact. We had our first “official” face-to-face meeting on September 29. Carol Nieters and I met with Mark Mathison, Cathy Wassburg (Hamline in-house counsel), and John Matachek (Dean of CLA). This meeting was just to reach agreement on the general terms of the bargaining process. We were joined at it by Laura Poppendeck, a federal mediator who would then train both bargaining teams in the process we agreed upon. In short, both sides agreed to a “hybrid” process that will use both methods of traditional issues-based bargaining and also newer approaches that are considered “interest-based.” We believe it is a process that will be relatively expedient while also allowing us the chance to humanize the issues and to ground them in interests that we hope speak to the administration (for example, social justice—an interest that sits at the heart of Hamline’s mission).

First full pre-bargaining meeting. On October 6, all seven of us joined Hamline’s eight-person team for a 4-hour training in constructive bargaining led by Laura Poppendeck. It was aimed at getting us up to speed—and on the same page—regarding the bargaining process. We learned basic vocabulary, some best (and worst) practices for finding win-win opportunities, and the like. In my estimation it was a very good beginning because it brought us all into the room as “US”—learning from Laura together. Next time we will inevitably be “us” and “them,” but it was good that on day one, we were just “us.” We spent the last twenty minutes of this meeting setting our agenda for next time. We’ll try to do this as a regular practice: always map out our next session at the end of the current one.

Next up: Ground Rules. We meet again today, October 17. This session will include both bargaining teams, but not Laura Poppendeck. Her only role at present was to train us. If we seek an outside mediator later on, she might be back, or we might get someone else. In any case, from here on our sessions will largely be guided by Carol Nieters and Mark Mathison. Carol will be our lead voice, because she knows the process best, but we will be working as a whole bargaining team to find places and opportunities where each of our voices—each of our stories, experiences, lives, wisdom—can enter the conversation.

This session will focus primarily on reaching agreement on Ground Rules. Some are basic but need to be stated: respect, timeliness, focusing on issues and interests not on personalities. Others are logistical: finding meeting times around our teaching schedules, where to meet, how often, how long, and when to caucus (go into separate rooms for in-team conversations). And a few are strategic: how much of our sessions will be confidential; how much (and how) we share info with the rest of our members, students or the general public throughout the process. All things that are best set before we begin anything in real earnest. We’ve committed to the administration that (time-permitting) we’ll use the end of this session to review some of the survey findings from you. It’s our first chance to say, “This is what we’re hearing about the issues and interests that matter to our members.” Finally, we’ll hope to map out a schedule of bargaining sessions for the duration of this semester and set our next agenda.

HUSC hears from us. At the invitation of Allissa Heim, President of Hamline Undergraduate Student Council, on October 7 Jen Beckham and Jhon Wlaschin spoke to about fifty members of HUSC, explaining some of the factors that drove our decision to unionize and reaffirming our commitment to students and the quality of our teaching. Several students voiced strong support and expressed a desire to more actively support us. We’ll be exploring ways to harness student energy. They clearly have an interest in our progress.

We need to hear from YOU! Also on October 7 we had two meetings for members of the bargaining unit—that’s YOU. If you were at either of these meetings you heard almost everything here in my report. In addition to my report, we voted to be an “agency shop,” meaning that union membership will be automatic for every undergraduate adjunct as they are hired. This positions us to be a powerful unit able to bargain effectively for all of us. And it means everyone will enjoy full union member benefits, from voice and vote at meetings to a range of merchant discounts and special events (although it remains up to you as to whether you exercise any of these benefits).

HOWEVER, I have heard from several people that they felt the meeting times did not do enough to accommodate everyone’s schedule. This is a fair criticism and without going into all the details behind how and why we choose that date and those times, we will do better! In fact, given that unions are strongest when participation is highest, I’m glad that more people wished they could have attended—and I’m committed to working harder at offering better options for that. Our union is a work in progress and not every step of that progress is going to be pretty. But I am committed to building a union that is as accessible and participatory as possible. So, please, criticize when necessary, but above all participate as often and as much as you can.

I’ll send another update next week, including both a report on our “ground rules” bargaining session and some announcements.

David Weiss
Religion Department
Union Steward

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