Misleading Claims

Here is a list of misleading claims often made by union supporters to gain support. (They are discussed in greater detail under “Six Arguments”.)

  • Academic experience: Union will not disrupt your academic experience.
    There several ways the union will be and already has been disruptive to our academic experience. If the union forms, union organizers’ intrusive organizing activities at your offices, classrooms, dining halls, dorm rooms, libraries, apartments, and labs will continue. They will come back again and again whenever there is an election, a vote, a survey, a contract renewal, a protest, a strike, and so on. If the union goes on strike you will be expected to participate and if you do, you will not be allowed to make progress on your research or do work for classes you teach. You may not be paid and could lose your benefits while the union is on strike. Studies on the effect of unionization on the relationship between students and the faculty are not unbiased scholarship but rather tools intended to promote a particular political viewpoint. (See the footnote 5 in Page 6.) 
  • Benefits 1: No compromises are necessary.
    Union supporters claim that the student union will not seek a “one-size-fits-all” approach that would tend to help certain students at the expense of others. At the same time, they claim that the union can fix disparities across various programs in the University. In a financially constrained environment, these claims are incompatible. Such compromises are necessary and may result in increase in tuition, reduction in financial aid, and decrease in the number of students admitted, just to name a few. 
  • Benefits 2: Union can win substantially greater benefits for students.
    Given that the likelihood of students deciding to go on strike is small (due to its significant negative impacts on students), the union will have little power during negotiation. If Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers’ (HUTCW) two years long negotiation and HUDS union’s strike did not result in substantially greater health benefits (such as free dental), then on what basis could students expect significant increase in benefits? Where will the money come from to cover the extra expenses? Union supporters are quite evasive on these questions. 
  • Late pay: Union can solve late paycheck problem.
    This is obviously a serious problem that needs to be fixed. Union supporters claim that a union can fix it. How would it accomplish this? If you get a late payment, you may complain to your union representative. What would happen thereafter? Would you get your payment immediately? There are plenty of cases where workers are not paid by their employers in a timely manner as members of a union. There is no reason to think that having a union will automatically fix this problem immediately. There is no mention about timely payment in the NYU contract.
  • More protections: Union can provide more protections against abuse and discrimination.
    The union’s grievance procedure will not be materially different from what the current University procedure is as exemplified in many graduate student union contracts including the collective bargaining agreement at NYU. There appears to be no empirical evidence that shows the existence of a student union and increased reporting rate of abuse and discrimination such as sexual assaults. There are already existing procedures for resolving complaints regarding the workload and it would be difficult to use union’s grievance procedure in practice.
  • Strike: You won’t have to go on strike.
    Union organizers claim that the proposed student union can choose how they go on strike. Say, at first a small group of Teaching Fellows would stop submitting grades. If the University doesn’t budge, then more students will go on strike. And so on. The legality of such strike can be contended before the NLRB and it turned out to be unlawful, then the University can discipline students that go on strike by taking actions such as dismissing them from their current positions. Given that the likelihood of students deciding to go on strike is small (due to its significant negative impacts on students), the union will have little power during negotiation.
  • Union dues: Union dues will be covered by the wage increase.
    Union supporters claim that union dues will be covered by an increase in wages. For example, if the annual union dues rate is 1.44% of paycheck and students receive 2.5% average annual pay increase, then the union would negotiate a contract that would increase students’ pay by 3.94% so that it covers union dues. The organizers point to the NYU student union contract but the claimed 4% wage increase is false. The union contract provided students $500 in cash during the first year of the contract but kept the usual 2.5% rate. This means the NYU students are experiencing effective pay increase of only 1.06% instead of the 2.5% that would have been enjoyed in the absence of a union contract. 
  • Union power: With a union, students can force the University to open its books and tell how it should spend its money.
    There appears to be a serious misconception among many union supporters about how much influence a union could have over the University administrators’ decisions on how they spend the University’s money. They say “During bargaining, we’ll get access to the university’s finances and be able to see for ourselves how Harvard’s money is being spent.” This is false. The University is not legally obligated to share its finances with a union. (They can, however, request limited information relevant to collective bargaining such as how individual students are compensated.) Anything other than the terms and conditions of employment such as whom to hire is outside the scope of union’s right to negotiate. No, a union cannot tell the University how to spend its money.
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6 thoughts on “Misleading Claims

  1. Your last claims ignores firmly established legal principles that require transparency in good faith bargaining if an employer claims it is unable to pay for wage increases. see NLRB v. Truitt Mfg Co., 351 U.S. 149 (1956); Detroit Edison Co. v. NLRB, 400 U.S. 301, 303. Nielsen Lithographing Co., 305 NLRB 697 (1991).

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    1. If you read the rest of my blog, it will answer your concern. Yes, a union could request financial information from the employer but the range of information it can request is limited to things that are relevant to collective bargaining such as wages of individual employees. Union supporters often give students a misimpression that it can request any kinds of information but that is not true.

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  2. Dear Kelsey,

    You have valid points. I edited my blog to address this discussion.

    The reason why I am concerned about the legality of such strike is that even a labor law professor at Harvard could not answer the question.

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    1. Thanks! So what you’re saying is that you’re concerned that it might be an invalid strike for only TFs and not RAs (for example) to strike? I looked into this, but also had trouble finding info about it. However, if it is not a legitimate strike if only some students strike, it wouldn’t mean anyone would be forced to participate in the strike, right? I thought that it would just mean that the University would be allowed to do certain things against those who do strike (like replace them, for example). So if you don’t think it’s a legitimate strike and you choose not to participate in the strike, then nothing happens to you ESPECIALLY if you’re not a union member.

      I’m still confused about why you say that if there is a strike we will likely have to participate. I’m still trying to get all the right info on this in order to make an informed decision, so it would be helpful if you could explain how exactly you think we could be forced to participate? What would be the consequence of not participating? Who would be enforcing that? Thanks!

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      1. You are bringing up good questions. I do not have all the answers so you may have to look elsewhere. But consider this. Say, a small group of students who are union members participate in a strike sanctioned by the union. The University discharges these students from their positions and permanently replace them. The union files charges against the University with NLRB. The strike is found unlawful and therefore unprotected. The students who were fired would then have no recourse but simply have lost their jobs.

        Putting aside the legal issue, let’s say the union decided that all the TFs and/or RAs go on strike. In order for the strike to be effective, many students will have to participate. Therefore, union organizers will likely to encourage other members to join the strike. (An example of intrusive organizing that disrupts our academic experience.) Usually, the union will try to force its members to go on strike by imposing heavy penalty or through social estrangement such as circulating a list of members who do not participate. If the union decides not to impose such a heavy penalty, then not many people will participate. In fact it’s not hard to imagine that only a small number of people will.

        If most people are not willing to participate in a strike or do not want to be a member of a union for that reason, why should we have a union in the first place? (A point made in my blog.) Wouldn’t the union simply give a small group of students with extreme views more disruptive power without truly helping their fellow students and other members in the community? Why should such a small group of students be granted so much power?

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