Below are some answers to commonly asked questions
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is a labor union?
A: A labor union is a collective bargaining unit. Employees with similar roles join together to negotiate with workplace administration as a collective.
Q: What’s our national union affiliation?
A: NTT faculty at Skidmore are members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The Skidmore chapter is affiliated with SEIU Local 200United.
Q: Why did we join this particular union?
A: SEIU is experienced in working with graduate students and faculty. SEIU Local 200United represents higher education workers across upstate New York at over 30 colleges and universities, including Siena, Vassar, Colgate, and Saint Lawrence; other chapters represent over 60 campuses nationwide. You can read more about SEIU Faculty Forward victories at other campuses.
Q: When was the Skidmore chapter established?
A: In April 2022, 65% of Skidmore’s non-tenure track (NTT) faculty expressed their desire to form a union by filing union authorization cards. Organizers and the college administration agreed on an election by mail in September 2022. In that election, faculty in part-time and full-time units voted 67% and 65% in favor of unionization, respectively, thereby establishing the Skidmore SEIU chapter.
Q: Who are the union members?
A: All NTT faculty at Skidmore, both full-time and part-time, including Librarians and Accompanists, are automatically enrolled in the appropriate bargaining unit.
Q: How are the bargaining units organized?
A: The full-time bargaining unit is composed of full-time faculty, librarians, artists-in-residence, and post-docs. The part-time bargaining unit includes part-time faculty, private instructors, and some full-time staff members who teach part-time in addition to their professional roles. Both units are linked together in a single Skidmore chapter and will work and bargain together during negotiations.
Q: How much will I pay in dues?
A: Dues will be assessed on a sliding scale based on annual salary, capped at no more than $77/month for full-time faculty. Part-time lecturers can expect dues to be approximately $35 to $40/month, collected only during the months that they teach. Dues will not be collected from any members until we ratify our initial contract, which is still under negotiation.
Q: What are dues used for?
A: The dues support the costs of running the union: stipends for chapter leadership, legal aid, SEIU staff and support salaries, and other administrative costs. Union dues are not used for political purposes.
Q: What’s the process of forming a union?
A: It has several stages:
Organizing: Over the last few years, NTT faculty have engaged in conversations about what our needs are, changes we would like to see, and how a union might meet those goals. Interested individuals volunteered to form an organizing committee to reach out to faculty.
Commitment: Organizing committee members collected union authorization cards from interested individuals. These attest to their support for forming a union. In 2022, 65% of Skidmore’s NTT faculty signed union authorization cards.
Public announcement and response: On April 27th, 2022, we announced a majority of NTT faculty support. We offered the administration the opportunity to acknowledge that majority through voluntary recognition. President Conner declined.
Filing for an election: On May 5th, 2022, we filed with the National Labor Relations Board to hold an election by mail.
Voting: Voting took place Sept 12th-Sept 26th, 2022 by mail via a secret ballot election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board. Full-time and part-time faculty voted 65% and 67% in favor, respectively.
Negotiating: Bargaining unit members work together to democratically determine negotiating priorities. We’ll create a bargaining committee (up to 10-15% of the bargaining unit) to represent our members in negotiations. Those representatives can be self-nominated or, if the number of interested parties significantly exceeds available positions, can be elected from a pool of nominees. The bargaining committee, with the support of SEIU, will meet with the administration to negotiate our contract. First contracts typically take between 12 and 18 months to be finalized; subsequent contracts are often negotiated more quickly.
Signing a contract: Once a tentative agreement is reached with the administration, the bargaining committee would present that agreement to our membership for ratification. A contract must be ratified by a simple majority of the member votes cast. Once ratified, the contract goes into effect.
Governing: Once a union has been established and a contract ratified and signed, we elect our own chapter leadership, usually called chapter stewards. Once elected, our colleagues would be responsible for enforcing and administering our contract and working with the membership to maintain a strong, democratic union.
Q: Who will negotiate on behalf of all NTT faculty?
A: A committee of Skidmore NTT faculty will negotiate our contract, with the support of experienced SEIU negotiators. This representative committee will be chosen democratically by union members.
Q: How will we decide our negotiating priorities? Who shapes this policy?
A: Our negotiating priorities will be determined through a collaborative process in which all NTT faculty are encouraged to participate. There will be meetings open to all, smaller gatherings of faculty with similar interests, and member polls–lots of opportunities to participate and contribute. At every step, it will be a democratic process open to every member.
Q: What can we include in negotiations?
A: While compensation is usually a major element of negotiations, there are lots of other areas that can also be included. Other local SEIU chapters have prioritized some of the following in their collective bargaining agreements: job security and contract length, additional or increased benefits, office space, professional development funding, and pathways to promotion. As a Skidmore chapter, we’ll get to decide together what we want to prioritize.
Q: How long before a new contract will take effect?
A: The first contract, or collective bargaining agreement, can take several months of negotiations; this agreement sets the standard for following contracts and as such will involve a detailed agreement. Other local SEIU chapters reached initial agreements after one to two years of negotiations, so it would be reasonable to expect our process to mirror those. We will mount a comprehensive contract campaign to expedite the bargaining process.
Q: Will a new contract eliminate my current retirement, health care, or other benefits?
A: No. After we filed for election on May 5th, 2022, all benefits were frozen in their current state and will remain in place until negotiations for the first contract conclude. When we begin negotiations, it’s standard practice to memorialize existing benefits as a contractual floor–that is, we can write into that contract that the benefits offered now can never be reduced, only improved upon. Union membership can then decide, in our pre-negotiation conversations, which benefits we’d like to prioritize improving.
Q: Can the college retaliate against faculty for unionizing or negotiating for new benefits?
A: No. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) bans employers from retaliating against employees for union activity. Skidmore chapter members are entitled to legal representation from SEIU in the case of any retaliatory behavior. The NLRB provides additional information about your rights as an employee.
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