Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

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When Janus Backfires: A Test Case In Labor Solidarity After Fair Share

Thursday, November 15th, 2018

In the aftermath of this summer’s Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision attacking public-sector unions, the University of Illinois at Chicago is rapidly becoming a bellwether for how those unions might sink or swim in a world without fair share.

UIC prides itself on being one of the most diverse college campuses in the country and one of the most welcoming to working-class students. The city’s only public research university and home to a vast hospital system, UIC employs a cross section of public-sector workers including nurses, teachers, clerical workers, and maintenance workers, nearly all of whom are unionized.

In recent years, university officials have rightly issued public statements critical of government actions that harm members of the campus community, including Trump’s Muslim ban, the Illinois state budget impasse, and the House GOP’s failed attempt to tax graduate student tuition waivers. But since the Supreme Court issued its anti-union decision in the Janus case this June—threatening the collective bargaining rights of thousands of university employees—the administration has been silent. Instead, through their actions, administrators have indicated a willingness to use Janus to engage in union busting.

In the first month after the ruling came down, the university payroll office failed to deduct dues from hundreds of card-signed union members from several unions on campus, including UIC United Faculty (UICUF), the Illinois Nurses Association (INA)SEIU Local 73, and my own union, the UIC Graduate Employees Organization (GEO). In the case of GEO, this cost our relatively small local of graduate student workers a whopping $10,000.

UIC’s failure to deduct member dues in July was not only illegal, but it also effectively silenced workers who actually want to pay dues because they enjoy having workplace rights. The administration openly admitted they hadn’t deducted dues, but said they weren’t going to do anything to remedy this obvious legal violation. Instead, they’ve forced the unions into a protracted grievance and arbitration dispute, apparently hoping they can simply tire us out or outspend us in legal fees.

Further, the administration is claiming the right to unilaterally process membership revocations without notifying the unions, which goes against university HR’s own policy. They also refuse to provide us with timely information about which employees are in our respective bargaining units, which is especially harmful for GEO since our bargaining unit changes dramatically every semester. Not knowing exactly who we represent at all times makes it difficult to sign up new members and impossible to ensure UIC is deducting dues correctly.

In August, GEO discovered that the university had mistakenly deducted dues from sixty nonmembers, individuals we had never claimed were union members in the first place. Mistakes like this put the union at legal risk, since the erroneously deducted money goes into our local’s bank account and makes the local liable for “taking” it. We alerted the administration immediately and they quickly corrected the error. What we still haven’t been able to figure out is why a handful of grad workers, overwhelmed with our normal teaching and research responsibilities and representing our union as volunteers, have to tell well-paid administrators at a multibillion-dollar institution like UIC how to do their jobs.

All of this comes as our unions are in the middle of contract negotiations. Even before Janus, UIC was already prone to bullying campus workers at the bargaining table and pushing us into going on strike. In 2014, faculty with UICUF had to strike to win their first contract. Last fall, the INA-represented staff nurses and administrative nurses at the UI Hospital came within a hair’s breadth of walking off the job before an eleventh-hour agreement was reached. This past spring, grad workers at the Urbana-Champaign campus had to strike for nearly two weeks in order to safeguard tuition waivers.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the administration has tried to exploit the post-Janus confusion around dues deductions to gain an advantage in bargaining, presumably to pressure us into making concessions on issues that matter to our members in exchange for the continued existence of our unions. When GEO first questioned why the administration had not deducted July member dues, they said they would only discuss it with us in contract negotiations—never mind that abiding by existing contract language and existing law is non-negotiable.

UIC grad workers—whose baseline pay is only $18,000 and who are forced to pay up to $2,000 in fees every year—are fighting for living wages and fee waivers. UIC’s tenured and nontenured faculty are fighting for increased job security, shared governance, and raises. That should be the focus of negotiations, not bureaucratic procedures around dues deductions.

The administration is waging its most vicious attack on the underpaid Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) with INA at the UI Hospital, who have also been in bargaining since Janus came down. Shortly after the ruling was issued, the university decided to bring in a new lead negotiator, who proceeded to tear up previously agreed-upon articles and introduce extremely regressive proposals in their place. Among other things, UIC is demanding LPNs surrender their right to engage in virtually any kind of concerted activity at the workplace, while demanding INA publicly disavow any kind of protest carried out by its members and threatening to single out union leaders for discipline.

UIC administrators seem to have assumed that Janus would leave our unions weakened and afraid, allowing them to ride roughshod over us and impose terrible contracts. But they miscalculated.

Thanks to the administration’s handling of Janus, the campus unions are working together closely. In late July, members of INA, UICUF, SEIU Local 73, and GEO held a joint march on the boss, showing up unexpectedly at the office of the head of university Labor Relations to demand accountability around the failure to deduct dues. Clearly rattled by this, the administration has since been far more careful around processing deductions and correcting errors when we point them out.

Meanwhile, all of our unions have filed or plan to file both grievances and Unfair Labor Practice charges. GEO and UICUF are ramping up our respective contract campaigns, both building towards possible strikes next spring which might easily coincide. This week, the LPNs will be going out on an indefinite ULP strike, and members from all four of our unions will hold a unified protest and rally as the UIC Board of Trustees gathers on campus for a meeting.

The budding coalition of UIC unions should be on every labor activist’s radar, as it’s emblematic of what a post-Janus world can look like for public-sector unions: a huge uptick in hostility from the boss met with more solidarity, more organizing, more direct action, more strikes, and a deeper determination to fight for our rights as public sector workers to ensure our students get the education they deserve, and our patients get the care they deserve.

This article was originally published at In These Times on November 14, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jeff Schuhrke is a Working In These Times contributor based in Chicago. He has a Master’s in Labor Studies from UMass Amherst and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in labor history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was a summer 2013 editorial intern at In These Times.

A Closer Look at Results-Focused Education

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

We sat down and had a conversation with our good friend Jeff Herzberg at Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency (PLAEA) about ROWE and education. We trained PLAEA’s pilot team through a Beyond Telework Workshop and recently brought selected PLAEA employees through our Training Certification program.  Those certified internal trainers will now lead the entire agency into a ROWE!  PLAEA is an organization that assists over 33,000 students and supports 3,500 educators and 200 administrators in central Iowa. Some of Jeff’s stories are going to be featured in the new book, Why Managing Sucks and How to Fix It, so we wanted to share some of that conversation with all of you today. 

I’ve been really pleased and surprised with how ROWE has resonated with educators and the effort to not just reform education, but reimagine it, as Jeff says in the interview.

Below is part of our conversation with Jeff and a clip of the interview, which you can watch in full here if you’re interested in learning more. And of course you can pre-order your copy of Why Managing Sucks to read more about ROWE in education. We’re really excited about Jeff’s chapter!

Cali: What made you crazy enough to be the Results-Only Work Enviornment pioneer in education?

Jeff: Besides the fact that you two were so convincing, after we read the book and had some conversation, it just made sense. School is not working for everyone, everyone knows it but no one was willing to do anything about it. I knew it was the right thing to do and just went right ahead.

Jody: Teachers can’t be ROWE! What do you say when people push back?

Jeff: Is what we’re doing working today with all kids? If we’re all honest and willing to risk saying it, then the answer is: Absolutely not, it’s not working for today’s kids. Everyone is working so hard–parents, teachers, kids, administration. The system’s broken. It doesn’t need reforming, but reinventing.

Cali:  Companies are freaked out about being first in their industry, when it comes to big changes like ROWE. What has changed for you?

Jeff: In Iowa, we got rid of seat time. We don’t want to focus on time as the constant. We want to make extended, high-quality learning the constant. Our current system worked 100 years ago when we were preparing kids for assembly lines. We’re moving toward competency-based education.

Jody: What were some of the challenges to adopting ROWE?

Jeff: We’re still experiencing them as we expand from our 50-person pilot to implementing throughout the agency of 240 employees. The big question is, how do we define results that we’ll be held accountable for? I want to shoot for something bigger than standardized test scores. Look at the big picture, not just all the activities that we’re doing. Like your new book says, we want to manage the work, not the people.

Our showstopper when people challenge what we’re doing is to say: “You don’t want to focus on results?”

Cali: Do people look at you like you’re crazy?

Jeff: People are polite and say “That’s nice” and they stand back and see if it’s going to work for us.

For the first time in my career we’re getting to have multiple conversations about employees really talking about the work. There’s a lot of excitement internally, but some fear like “what if it doesn’t work?”

Cali: It’s about waking people up to be accountable and really own the job.

Jeff: Most people want to be accountable and responsible. Recent Gallup study: only 11% of workers report being “engaged” in their work. If education workers are following that trend, well no wonder we’re not getting good outcomes! We’re talking about unleashing the potential of our employees. Stop doing things that are a waste of time, and start doing things that will really have an impact.

This article was originally posted on ROWE on November 11, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Authors: Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson are the Founders of CultureRx and creators of the Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE). Their first book, Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It, was named “The Year’s Best Book on Work-Life Balance” by Business Week. They have been featured on the covers of BusinessWeek, Workforce Management Magazine, HR Magazine, Hybrid Mom Magazine, as well as in the New York Times, TIME Magazine, USA Today, and on Good Morning America, CNBC and CNN.

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