seeking solidarity amid organizational turmoil
February 18, 2023 1:47 PM   Subscribe

My employer (essentially a small quasi-independent program unit within a public university department) is in the process of being acquired by a state agency outside the university. This involves a move from a union job to a non-union, non-classified position (I am an individual contributor). What are my options if I wish to stay in unionized work?

This is a very specific situation and I don't want to give away too much identifying information. But, broad strokes, I took a job that started as a union position in a special program unit, partly because I Liked the unit but also because I wanted to work in public higher ed. If everything goes as planned by our supervisors, we'll move to a governmental agency, and essentially be re-hired/re-(non)-classified as non-union workers. This has already provoked a number of frustrating issues, like losing remote working arrangements, possibly losing acquired vacation, requiring new more frequent commute to a different location, etc. From my employer's perspective, it ensures the long-term success of the organization - but I think it's more of an aggressive move towards growth at the expense of our rank-and-file worker situations - it's pretty acrosss-the-board a downgrade for us.

I am personally not happy with this move for a number of reasons. It creates a lot of uncertainty about long-promised raise/career progression structure, as we are moving into an extremely open-ended non-classified structure for both. It will drastically reduce the flexibility of our work (working hours and tripling amount of days in the office); as I plan to foster/adopt in the next few years, I am very concerned with this lack of flexibility as it relates to parental leave too etc. Underlying all of these changes, I understand better now, is that we actually have belonged to a broader union class that has FOUGHT for these benefits. And I don't want to leave that fight! Of course government comes with some degree of stability presumably, but having previously worked non-union government work, I know how managers like to play with the tenuousness..

A few things jump out at me:
1. I could go along with the changes, and look into the possibility of... unionizing in the new place?! It's hard to know going into a new agency culture, especially in the public sector, how much desire or possibility there will be for this fight. I personally am very interested in this in the abstract, but without any existing relationships with new colleagues, I imagine it might take a looong tiiime.

2. Is it possible to reach out strategically to others in the union to see about other positions/transfering/etc.? While our supervisors have focused on how we will be immediately be re-hired, I haven't yet raised the question of what would happen if we just... wanted to stay with our positions in the university. I'm afraid asking this question will tip my hand too much. I could also reach out to our host department in the university, who are annoyed we're leaving, but I again worry that that action will be interpreted as very antagonistic by my current employer.

3. I of course could look elsewhere and consider walking away. This has already been on my mind/ I have a few applications out. however, I want to take a more union-minded approach in general and see how I can stay in union fights/solidarity rather than just peacing out, if that makes sense.

Do you have any experience with these kinds of changes? Any advice on who the most trusted confidants would be in this situation (I named a couple of possibilities in #2 - I also haven't specifically spoken with union chapter leadership. Maybe I could try them?)

Thank you!
posted by Sock Meets Body to Work & Money (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What is your union’s position on this? Was it approved be the union?
posted by lunasol at 2:44 PM on February 18

Response by poster: @lunasol - good question! I honestly have no idea. I've heard my supervisors mention several times that "we can't 'move' or take away existing positions from the university, only rehire at the new agency" which to me, implies a strategy for skirting a union conflict/dispute over "taking a job away".

I don't really know the status of the position being left behind - like, if it will literally be the same job title and description and just be reassigned to report to the department (my boss' boss), or if it will otherwise be reutilized/renamed/shifted. and again, I haven't signaled yet my interest in staying with this position at the university, which might change the calculus one way or another? it's confusing!

right after posting this message, i did schedule an initial conversation with my union chapter president. for all i know, they don't directly know this is happening, or their interests have been indirectly represented via the department, so uh this could be a bold move, or it could be just informative.
posted by Sock Meets Body at 2:55 PM on February 18

Best answer: Many unions are overall weak, disorganized, and stuck in a sort of demotivated disfunction, but... your union (ie: you and your coworkers) should and could fight for a good outcome to this.

Your call to the union prez is a great step. Another really powerful step is talking to your coworkers. What other union members are impacted by this change?

I don't know how much energy you have for this, but there is a sort of method to organizing with coworkers with some pretty tried-and-true steps including 1) make a list of everyone who is impacted 2) identify who would likely collaborate with you from that list 3) Identify a 'demand' with that 'organizing committee' (to stay in the union/not be transferred to a different employer is one possible demand, but there could be others) 4) figure out who has the power to satisfy your demand 5) convince your other coworkers to help you pressure that powerful person/people...

You're right that a maybe simpler option is to demand that you and your coworkers have the option to transfer.

Have you seen your contract? It may be online by googling Name of Your Union and searching for the contracts they have on their website for different employers. It may also be in the Intranet of the university you work for under Labor Relations or something. Try Control F for "reduction in force", "Bumping", "re-classification"...

This is a all a bit complex and very contingent on the current health of your union, what state you are in, whether you have a public or private employer, and other factors but.. you can fight this.
posted by latkes at 4:20 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]

Feel free to DM me.. I do a lot of union-y stuff with a public sector employer so I may have some more ideas
posted by latkes at 4:23 PM on February 18

Best answer: I don't know how the government you potentially would be moving to works, but you should also look into their union contracts and civil service regulations if they have them. The government entity whose rules I'm familiar with can't just hire people as non-union in roles that would otherwise be union, and the union has the ability to argue that a role should be part of the union. But I think this really varies by state/city/etc.
posted by sepviva at 6:14 PM on February 18

Best answer: If you are being re-hired, are you also being laid off? Because if your role is being terminated without cause, then things like paying out banked PTO and whether you could claim unemployment if you declined the re-hire would presumably become a matter of state law. I would also expect 'termination' to be a motivating word to use with your union.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 7:10 PM on February 18

Response by poster: this is all SO helpful already. just a quick update: i emailed my union chapter prez today (saturday) and they responded a few hours later, ccing multiple people with a timeline for digging in. i think they're for real. 💪
posted by Sock Meets Body at 8:09 PM on February 18 [5 favorites]

« Older Are there any battery powered cat toys that your...   |   Is this required condition for a newspaper... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments