Mission Statement

The purpose of this blog is to deconstruct the rhetoric and strategies of faculty union advocates at the University of Illinois. A consequential decision like this must be based on facts, not spin. Right now only one side of the argument is being presented to faculty. This blog represents the other side of the argument.

Sunday, December 8, 2013



You are working in your office on an ordinary weekday. Perhaps you are preparing for class, or writing something under a deadline. But if you’re in your office, you are there to work. A knock comes at your door, and one or two people say they would like a few minutes of your time. Perhaps they tell you they are there to recruit members for a faculty union; perhaps they don’t. They may say they are there to ask you questions and find out what your concerns and feelings are about campus issues. But make no mistake – they want something from you. They are soliciting, just as textbook resellers who come to your office are soliciting. Who are they? What do they want? And what are your rights?

State labor law allows two ways to make a decision to unionize: an open, public election, and a “card campaign” that involves approaching people individually to persuade them to join.

Given all their talk about “transparency” and “democracy,” why have faculty union advocates opted for the less transparent, less public and participatory process?

Because they are being advised by union pros who tell them that this is the most effective way to get their colleagues to join.

When faculty union organizers interrupt you as you try to work in your office, they often come in pairs: a campus colleague whom you may know, along with a pro from the state or national union. These union pros are folks who have been through dozens of campaigns like this, who know how to sell the union, and who, like all good salespeople, have been trained in the subtle processes of obtaining psychological buy-in.

We don’t know how our faculty colleagues on the campus Organizing Committee (OC) justify spending their work days on drop-in office visits that take up our time, and theirs, instead of carrying out the research, teaching, and service work that define our profession. As noted, they could just conduct an open, public election.

But they clearly believe it is to their advantage to adopt a process in which they control the parameters of the conversation, where they control what information and arguments you hear, and where they can selectively present their version of the facts without debate – because there is no other perspective presented.

Like any successful door-to-door solicitor, they exploit the psychological effects of entering your space, unexpectedly and without a previous invitation. They know the effects of having two people confronting a lone individual.

These are anything but spontaneous, friendly chats.

In fact, the training that faculty union organizers receive in how to conduct these office visits forms an essential part of the collective bargaining campaign. The collective bargaining website of the AAUP is quite clear about this:
Organizing campaigns often begin slowly and only “go public” when the organizers (the OC) are confident that they have majority support. 

Before going public, but after you have built a considerable OC, there is often a lengthy period of extensive office visiting with future members to identify issues, to educate them on issues about which they may not be fully aware, and to get them ready for future actions (including signing union authorization cards).

One-on-one visits led by OC members and other volunteers are the single most important component of any organizing campaign. It is in these visits that the OC learns how to define the struggles that their future members face and the issues that they feel are paramount, and it is in these visits that support for unionization is consolidated. 

To get ready for office visits, you will need the following:     

A system for tracking visits (including a database, a plan for data entry, contact sheets, etc.).

Talking points or a “rap” to be used in all visits so that activists deliver a common message and create a consistent vision of the union.

Training so that everyone conducting visits with potential members knows basic organizing techniques and is prepared to answer common questions (about dues, for example) and to “inoculate” potential members against the employer’s almost inevitable anti-union campaign.

A system to maintain accountability and to make sure that you are sharing (as well as getting) results. The whole OC should know when and where you are experiencing difficulty. . . .

As you begin office visits, you should be able to identify the issues and concerns that exist across departments and have the potential to unify your campus. You should also constantly monitor your progress in moving future members from being undecided to supporting a union. Often, you begin a campaign with a large number of “undecideds”; another test of union readiness is whether you are succeeding in moving those undecideds to support.
There are various strategies for “moving” undecideds, and for “inoculating” people against any potential counterarguments. One campus organizer said that she was willing to give prospects “the other side of the argument” – but only if they asked for it. We leave it to you to guess how seriously the other side of the argument is being presented . . . or whether it is characterized as nothing but a series of myths.

Most important of all, these organizers know the psychological effects of getting you to sign something. This is a revealing aspect of the office visit, because the “mission statement” or “statement of principles” faculty have been asked to sign has no legal force whatsoever. But its more powerful force is psychological.

One aspect of this psychological force is social. Organizers know from long experience the influence of showing wavering "undecideds" a list of signatures and saying, "Your colleagues have already agreed, why won't you?"

For others, declining an explicit request from a colleague is harder than acceding to it, especially when it seems, at the moment, to be harmless. And some of our colleagues have said they have been worn down by repeated visits and sign just to get rid of the nuisance.

What organizers understand is that by getting you to sign your name to a statement that someone else has authored, whatever the reason, they create a relationship, a subtle bond. And if those same organizers, or their colleagues, make a return office visit to ask you to sign an actual union card – which is legally binding – it will be much harder for you to say no. They know this, and will use this leverage. You’ve already signed off on the general principles – so why wouldn’t you put your signature on an actual union card?

Finally, we find this AAUP statement to be remarkable: Organizing campaigns often begin slowly and only “go public” when the organizers are confident that they have majority support. What they are saying is that they don't want a public, open process – until they already know they have won. 

Here is what you need to know:

1. You are under no obligation to talk to these people and they have no right to interrupt you during your work.

2. If you have signed a “mission statement” or “statement of principles” handed to you by a faculty union organizer, that document has no legal force and in no way obligates you to sign a union card.

If there ever is a card campaign, you can expect even more pressure than before, because the job of the organizers is to get as many signatures as possible. In fact, if they are following the AAUP Handbook, their success rate is recorded and they are evaluated by their numbers. (They call this a system of “accountability.”)

3. If you are considering signing a card, remember this: You are not just voting to join a union yourself. You are voting to force ALL of your colleagues, including the many who do not want to be part of a union, to be represented by it.

You are voting to force all colleagues on your campus to pay dues to the union every single year, whether they want to or not.

And you are voting to go ahead with this even if it means that many of our campus’s most productive faculty, who have said they will leave if the campus unionizes, will follow through on their promise.

Such a decision carries very high stakes, and ought to be made only after careful consideration of the pros and cons. It is a decision that ought to be weighed through public debate and deliberation, with full awareness of all the consequences, involving all affected participants. That’s the sort of rigorous inquiry we as academics are committed to – and it’s how a truly democratic process should work.

But that's not what campus union organizers want.

*** This blog is a jointly authored project by two people who believe that the campaign for tenure-track faculty unionization has damaged morale and divided our campus, and that a faculty union, if ever established, would erode academic quality and undermine our highly successful system of campus shared governance, which has earned nationwide praise.

We speak for ourselves. We have no organization behind us, we don’t ask for funding, we don’t pay national hired guns to come in and make the case for us.

We want to start a different campus conversation about faculty unionization, which we believe will be more thoughtful and substantive when people have all the facts.

We welcome and will consider postings from others expressing issues and concerns about faculty unionization. We know that many faculty are very upset about the possibility of working on a unionized campus.

If you see any information here that is inaccurate, please tell us and we will correct it.

If you share our concerns and want to help, please forward these postings to your friends and colleagues, and urge them to do the same. ***