UMN graduate-assistant union group accuses U of unfair election practices

I've posted before about charges exchanged between the University of Minnesota administration and the group trying to form a graduate-assistant union -- each claiming the other was acting unfairly during the unionization campaign.

Now unionization supporters are claiming -- as they did in January -- that the U has been trying to silence talk of a union on campus.

They've filed a charge of unfair election practices (above). It says the U was "targeting and restricting" union organizing starting last fall through the week of the election.

In essence, it says the U continued to tell students unlawfully that union organizers were not allowed to speak to them about unionizing. The organizers state that they had the right to do so.

They said the U's actions affected the outcome of the election, which the union lost by a vote of 62%-38%.

(I have the U's reaction in an update farther down in the story.)

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Scott Thaller, spokesman of the union supporters, told me:

"The university broke the law when it told the graduate assistants that they could not discuss forming a union in their workplace."

The U's Web site states:

Union representatives attempting to organize public employees are governed by certain restrictions. Union organizing representatives may only enter public spaces of the employer and employee break areas. No union organizer or employee may enter a work area and interrupt the work of any employee for the purposes of oral solicitation or the distribution of literature. Union representatives may only interact with employees during the employees’ non-work time. Non-work time is defined as mealtime, breaks, and the hours before and after the shift. Solicitation includes oral discussion and distribution of union literature.

Update: Here's a memo from the union group:

---------- Forwarded message ----------


Date: Wed, Apr 11, 2012 at 11:15 PM

Subject: Election Charges


Dear Graduate Assistants,

As you’ve all seen, the University recently sent out an email stating that GSWU/UAW has filed a charge of unfair election practices with the Bureau of Mediation Services. This is true. The University broke the law when they told Graduate Assistants that they could not discuss forming a Union in their workplaces. The Bureau of Mediation Services will inform us regarding the progress of next steps in the process. Until the charges have been addressed the maintenance of status quo order has been reinstated.

The University has also broken the law by threatening to withhold expected pay increases as a result of the status quo order. The status quo order requires the University to implement expected wage increases and to continue processes used to determine wage increases.

We urge the University to cease misrepresenting the application of the status quo order and to respect the legal processes that protect the rights of Graduate Assistants to freely organize and form their union.


For context, here's the union's letter from January:

Thaller confirmed U's statement that "the Bureau of Mediation Services has stayed the election results pending an investigation of and ruling on the charges."

An MPR reporter has a call out to the U's general counsel.

Update: U says it still hasn't found someone to talk to us about this.

Update: Here's the U's official statement, which it e-mailed to me:

The University is disappointed in the United Auto Workers of America/GSWU decision to file a Charge of Unfair Election Practices.

Throughout the election, the university followed the legal process and made every effort to ensure a fair and accurate vote, and our graduate assistants voted against union representation by a large margin. In the coming weeks, we will work with the Bureau of Mediation Services as they investigate this new charge, taking into consideration information from both the university and the union. Despite this new development, our focus has been and continues to be moving forward in a collaborative way to ensure the best possible program for our graduate assistants.