Northwestern’s Bad Arguments Against a Football Player Union

On April 25, Northwestern football players will vote on whether to form a union. But we may never know the results of the vote, because Northwestern University is fighting to have any union banned after the NLRB Regional Director ruled it could exist. In a legal brief appealing the ruling (pdf), Northwestern made a number of strange and disturbing claims, beginning with the argument that  “The University is not in the business of football.” If it’s not a business, then why are you paying your head football coach total compensation of more than $2.175 million per year in a 10-year contract, which is far more than the president or any professor at the school makes? Is it because football is the most important educational activity at Northwestern? Or is it because football is a big business?

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Strike Averted at University of Illinois at Chicago

News from the University of Illinois at Chicago faculty union (an AAUP/AFT joint union):

“STRIKE AVERTED- University of Illinois at Chicago United Faculty (Local 6456) has successfully negotiated a tentative agreement on labor contracts for tenure-track and non-tenure track faculty!”

We posted several articles during the earlier February 18 & 19 strike, including from Howard Bunsis and Jane Buck. Another strike was planned to begin on April 23.

The NLRB Decision on the Unionization of College Athletes at One Institution Signals, but Will Not Determine, the Changes That Are Coming

The Tacoma News Tribune very recently published a very thoughtful editorial by Bill Virgin titled “It’s Not So Far-Fetched to See the Future of Collegiate Sports as a Business Entity” [http://www.thenewstribune.com/2014/04/13/3147199/its-not-so-far-fetched-to-see.html?sp=/99/261/].

Virgin considers the following contrasts: the erosion of the concept of the amateur athlete and the rise of professional sports as a major entertainment industry, the rise in the profits generated by intercollegiate athletics and the low graduation rates among college athletes; and the tension between increased allocations to intercollegiate athletics ostensibly to market academic institutions and the rise in student debt and cuts to instructional budgets.

Virgin concludes that the end of amateur collegiate athletics is on the horizon—not because of the recent NLRB decision to allow the student athletes at Northwestern University to unionize but because that decision reflects a broader societal awareness of the hypocrisy of pretending that, at its top levels, this “big business” should be able to generate huge profits for everyone involved except for those most fundamentally involved, the athletes themselves.

Like Virgin, I don’t think that there is much point in mulling over the specifics of the NLRB decision on Northwestern. It seems more significant as a pivotal event than as a critical event: that is, it has created an awareness and a certain momentum that will extend beyond even its being overturned in the courts. Continue reading

Please Stand with the Educators and Academic Professionals at Portland State University!

By a 94%-6% margin, the AAUP chapter at Portland State University has voted to strike on April 16 if substantive progress has not been made in their contract negotiations with their administration.

They ask that you show your support for that vote by signing this petition:

https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/i-stand-with-the-educators-academic-professionals-at-psu

They were initially hoping to get at least 1,000 signatures on the petition. They have already surpassed that goal.

The chapter leadership feels very strongly that Portland State University is headed in the wrong direction. The faculty and academic professionals are fighting for a contract that will refocus the university on academic priorities and, in the process, contribute to the broader defense quality public higher education. Continue reading

Cops and Robbers at the University of Southern Maine

This guest post was written by Michael DeCesare, Chair of the Department of Sociology at Merrimack College and President of the AAUP Chapter there.

At a special meeting of the University of Southern Maine (USM) faculty senate on March 14th, USM President Theodora Kalikow announced her plan to eliminate four academic programs and lay off 20 to 30 faculty—including tenured and tenure-track professors—along with 10 to 20 staff. What was the ostensible purposes of these unilateral decisions? To “re-brand” USM from a liberal arts institution into a “metropolitan university” and to make up $7M of a $14M shortfall. Martin Kich reported on these austerity cuts on this blog a week ago.

To this point, neither USM nor the University of Maine (UM) System has declared financial exigency. The supposed severity of the budget shortfall was quickly shown by Susan Feiner, a professor of economics and women’s and gender studies at USM, to be a flimsy justification for firing faculty and closing programs. As Paul Krugman put it in his New York Times blog last week, USM’s administration “seems eager to downsize liberal arts and social sciences for reasons that go beyond money.” Continue reading

Three Years Ago, Senate Bill 5 Was Signed into Law in Ohio

This is a post by John McNay, President of the Ohio Conference of AAUP and the author of Collective Bargaining and The Battle of Ohio: The Defeat of Senate Bill 5 and the Struggle to Defend the Middle Class (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) [http://www.amazon.com/Collective-Bargaining-Battle-Ohio-Struggle/dp/1137339179/ref=la_B001KI3NOG_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1396230324&sr=1-1].
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Three years ago, on March 31, 2011, the Republican-dominated Ohio legislature passed Senate Bill 5 in the face of overwhelming public protests. That evening Gov. John Kasich had a celebratory signing ceremony covered by statewide television. Senate Bill 5, derived mainly from the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, was designed to crush public unions across the state.

Championed by Gov. Kasich, SB 5 was the centerpiece of his legislative agenda­, and was defended as necessary to close a $6 billion budget gap. Proponents inaccurately blamed public workers for the deficit when, in fact, it was produced by years of irresponsible income tax cuts imposed on the state combined with the recessions. Since 2005, the income tax had been slashed by 31 percent. The crisis atmosphere was exploited by the Republican Party to try to impose extreme ideological positions on Ohio that in ordinary times Ohioans would not accept. Continue reading

Statement by US Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez on César Chávez Day

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez today issued the following statement in observance of César Chávez Day, which is Monday, March 31:

“Today, we celebrate one of the greatest Americans of the 20th century. César Chávez’s passion for social justice and his devotion to improving the lives of working people remain an inspiration 87 years after his birth.

“A heroic and iconic labor leader, a gifted practitioner of the politics of protest and boycott, a man of towering strength and indescribable courage, one of our history’s leading humanitarians and civil rights giants, César Chávez stirs a new generation of activists fighting for change today.

“As we move closer to fixing our broken immigration system, as we rise to the challenge of income inequality, as we protect the right to join a union, as we work to create opportunity for all, we draw strength from his vision and moral example.

“On César Chávez Day — and every day — we must continue to remind ourselves: ¡Sí Se Puede!

 

Major Attack on Academic Freedom in Michigan

In the Michigan Senate, the Appropriations Higher Education Subcommittee included in its budget proposal a penalty against any public college or university that teaches a labor-related course or offers a labor-studies program.

Michigan State University has been considering an agreement to adopt a portion of programming from the National Labor College. A spokesperson for the university said in testimony before the subcommittee: “’We do also provide training for other groups, business groups, others on the other side of the aisle for how to work with unions on the management side. We also teach de-certification of unions as well.’”

Apparently the state senators found that testimony insufficiently reassuring, Continue reading

Full-Text of Today’s NLRB Decision Permitting Athletes at Northwestern University to Unionize

Northwestern University has already indicated that it plans to appeal this decision, and it may very well be overturned on appeal. But the arguments presented by the NLRB regional director who has communicated the decision are very thought-provoking.

I have removed the footnotes because I think that the decision is more than long enough without them. The full text of the decision, including the footnotes is available at: file:///C:/Users/Michael/Downloads/E-Mail/Decision%20and%20Direction%20of%20Election.pdf

I think that it is ironic that, of all of the Big Ten schools, Northwestern should be the institution at which student athletes should have sought to make this point, since the public perception would seem to be that it is probably the Big Ten university least associated with the its athletic history. But perhaps that–as well as its location in a state with a strong union tradition–make it the perfect place for such a petition to have been filed.

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UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT

BEFORE THE NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD REGION 13

NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY

Employer 

and                                                                           

COLLEGE ATHLETES PLAYERS ASSOCIATION (CAPA)

Petitioner

Case 13-RC-121359

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NLRB Recognizes Northwestern Athletes as Eligible for a Union

In a big victory for labor rights (and student rights), the National Labor Relations Board has ruled that Northwestern athletes are eligible to form a union and called for a secret ballot election. Northwestern University spokesperson Alan K. Cubbage said the university would appeal the decision and declared: “Northwestern believes strongly that our student-athletes are not employees, but students. Unionization and collective bargaining are not the appropriate methods to address the concerns raised by student-athletes.” Appropriate or not, workers should get to decide if they unionize, not their bosses. And the notion that students can’t be employees will shock the millions of students who work in order to pay for college.

I’m a little surprised that the NLRB ruled in favor of the students, considering that the NLRB still doesn’t recognize graduate student teachers as employees. But I hope Northwestern will recognize a union of student athletes regardless of the legal obligations, just as the university recognizes the rights of academic freedom and free speech for faculty and students despite having no legal requirement to do so.

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