I work in a union shop. A few colleagues are non-members. They have doubts about the efficacy of collective action.They behave as if activism is beneath them, or that they have no dog in this fight. I can only assume that they are either naïve or woefully ignorant of the existential threat that the so-called “Right to Work” (RTW) amendment poses to every faculty member in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system.
Equally deluded are the handful of “principled” libertarians who claim that unions are a coercive imposition on their “freedom.” They want neither to belong to a union nor to pay anything for the benefits that a union bestows upon them. Economists call these two groups “free riders.” In truth, that is just a polite euphemism for freeloaders.
The Inter Faculty Organization (IFO) forces no one to join. However, you are mistaken if you believe that you are not dependent on the union for the wages, benefits, and workplace protections that you enjoy. Because non-members receive the same benefits from our contract settlements as do members, we ask that you pay a “Fair Share” of the cost of bargaining and protecting the provisions of that agreement.
The IFO holds to a rather old-fashioned idea: We are a community of scholars. In the 12th century, Peter Abelard established at the University of Paris the progenitor of the modern college and university. Modeled on the medieval guild, Paris exemplified the principle of autonomy, a federated and self-regulating community of teachers and scholars.
During the 20th century, trustees and a new class of professional administrators eventually destroyed those self-governing faculty guilds that had persisted for 800 years. Teachers and scholars increasingly became wage slaves in a corporate university, at-will employees with few protections, minimal bargaining power, and little say in governance. Administrators and trustees held a monopoly of power in higher education.
Faculty members soon realized that without their traditional form of self-governance, they were individually subject to autocratic behavior by administrators and trustees. The community of scholars became a shape shifter—it organized faculty unions.
The IFO improves and protects your wages, health coverage, pensions, and contract rights, whether you are a member or not. With the combined 2006 and 2008 contracts, the IFO won salaries increases of nearly 17 percent. Since the Great Recession, we have protected those gains and stopped ongoing attempts to cut faculty salaries and benefits. Even if you are not a member, we provide professional representation if the administration violates your contractual rights.
Most importantly, the IFO has organized a countervailing power to the potentially absolute power of MnSCU and local university administrations. We now have shared governance in public higher education. This faculty power grows from a democratic and participatory organization that projects a collective voice—we hang together, or the powers-that-be will hang us one by one. Much of the time, the slogan “The union makes us strong” seems a cliché; the RTW campaign has made this assertion a pragmatic truth.
MnSCU controls public higher education at 31 colleges and universities. Chancellor Rosenstone says he is running a $2 billion business and, befittingly, has joined the board of the Minnesota Business Partnership—an organization composed of the CEOs of the state’s 100 largest banks and corporations.
A Board of Trustees, appointed by former Governor Tim Pawlenty, governs MnSCU. Business leaders, including current and past executive directors of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota and the Minnesota Business Partnership, dominate the board. The market ideology that permeates MnSCU has no sympathy for faculty unions. In fact, there are Trustees and MnSCU employees who support efforts to weaken and destroy public unions.
Consider doing your job without the IFO having your back. It is not a comforting thought. The choice is yours—union solidarity today or wage slavery tomorrow.