Union under review: Faculty members vote to decertify or maintain AFMSU

Photo by Conor Glesner.
Photo by Conor Glesner.

MSU faculty are currently voting on whether or not to decertify the tenure and tenure-track faculty union, with ballots due April 16, three weeks after being sent out. The decision could weigh heavily on the campus experience at MSU, say proponents on either side.

Created four years ago, the Associated Faculty of Montana State University (AFMSU) is just starting to “get a foot in the door,” said tenure-track AFMSU President Sandy Osborne, referring to the collective bargaining agreement ratified by the Board of Regents last fall.

Osborne fears that the decertification of the union — resulting in the loss of the “legally binding opportunity to bargain face to face” — may take away faculty voice, and “perhaps faculty needs will not be met,” she said.

Referring to faculty salaries, Osborne said MSU teachers are the “lowest paid faculty in the U.S.” Despite having “great, hard-working” faculty, “morale is low when salaries are low,” she added. This could affect the atmosphere at the university, and has been a focus for the union.

Proponents of decertification, however, argue that the creation of the union has had a negative impact on the campus environment. Originally remaining anonymous, faculty are beginning to come forward to voice their opinions.

“Many feel the union is a negative force on campus that has hurt teaching and scholarship, and has made a once collegial environment adversarial,” said physics professor and proponent of decertification, Bennett Link, to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

After more than 30 percent of MSU tenure and tenure-track faculty signed and submitted cards requesting a decertification vote for the union, about 400 faculty members, all tenure and tenure-track faculty, were sent ballots for the vote on March 27. The process is being administered by the state Department of Labor and Industry.

According to Osborne, every campus in Montana is home to a faculty union, and “it would be a great loss” if MSU eliminated the organization. Faculty union presidents come together periodically to discuss statewide issues, and eliminating the tenure and tenure-track part of the union would leave some of MSU’s faculty out of the conversation, she explained.

The vote considers only the tenure and tenure-track portion of the union, and as a result, the non-tenure track side will not be significantly affected.

Microbiology professor and non-tenure-track President Kari Cargill explained the main difference between the two groups. “Non-tenure-track faculty are more vulnerable because contracts are often semester by semester,” she said, “so continued employment can be uncertain.”

If the vote to decertify the union continues, Cargill said, “the non-tenure-track faculty union will still stand as AFMSU, and proceed with bargaining.”