Essential Background Information
Many full-time faculty members have reported that organizers from SEIU, Local 509 have approached them in classrooms, hallways and outside of offices, and that they have received unsolicited emails from the union. The sudden increase in union outreach has sparked questions and concerns, many of which we attempt to address in the questions below.
We hope you find this information helpful. At any time, we encourage you to reach out to the dean of your college with questions.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a union authorization card?
A union authorization card is a document that indicates your support for union representation. The union authorization cards SEIU has asked faculty to sign at other institutions states “I support forming a union with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 509. I understand this card will be filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to establish the necessary interest to hold a union election.” A union can petition the National Labor Relations Board to hold a representation election by showing that 30% of the members of an appropriate bargaining unit support union representation.
I understand that if faculty formed a union, the union would represent an “appropriate bargaining unit” of faculty, but what is an “appropriate bargaining unit”?
This is a legal term that the National Labor Relations Board uses to describe the group of employees deciding whether to be represented by a union. Generally, an “appropriate bargaining unit” consists of those employees in a single location of an employer who share similar terms and conditions of employment such as functional integration in the performance of their jobs, common supervision, similar skills and functions, interchangeability and contact among employees, and similar fringe benefits. A union chooses the appropriate bargaining unit it seeks to represent. This choice is subject to challenge by the employer before any election is scheduled and a dispute about the appropriateness of the unit would be resolved by the National Labor Relations Board.
Which faculty members does SEIU want to represent?
SEIU has represented that it wants to represent full-time non-tenure track faculty across all of the university’s colleges and schools. This approach would mean that, if successful, SEIU would represent in a single bargaining unit all faculty teaching in different disciplines at different colleges.
What should I do if I don’t support the SEIU in its efforts to solicit Northeastern faculty…or if I have not yet made up my mind?
You should not sign a union authorization card. Take the time to learn about unions and what a union could mean for you before committing.
If I sign a union authorization card, and change my mind, can I revoke?
If you change your mind about supporting the union after signing an authorization card, you can revoke your authorization, but your revocation is probably symbolic at best because there are cases where the National Labor Relations Board has found employee attempts to revoke the card ineffective and counted their cards towards the union’s showing of support for a representation election despite the employee’s efforts to revoke.
What does the union do with signed authorization cards?
If the union can get 30% of the people in the unit it seeks to represent to sign cards, then it can file a petition for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The NLRB is the federal government agency responsible for conducting union elections in the private sector.
If the National Labor Relations Board holds an election, how is that election decided?
The election is decided by a majority of those who vote. So, if the appropriate bargaining unit in which the election is held has 700 faculty and only 100 vote, then 51 votes for SEIU would result in SEIU representing all 700 faculty. Because of how NLRB election voting is counted, deciding not to vote is like voting “yes” to have a union.
Are full-time faculty now represented by the SEIU?
No. There is a process that has to be followed, none of which has happened yet, and that process culminates in a secret ballot election. We will notify you if SEIU initiates the process and if there is going to be an election.
Doesn’t SEIU Local 509 already represent some faculty members at Northeastern?
Yes. The union represents part-time faculty and has negotiated a union contract for those faculty.
Has the union filed a petition with the NLRB for an election among Northeastern full-time faculty?
Does the union get to choose the unit of people it wants to represent?
To some degree. If an election is held, the law requires that those eligible to vote constitute “an appropriate unit.” Generally, an “appropriate unit” consists of those employees in a single location of an employer who share similar terms and conditions of employment such as functional integration in the performance of their jobs, common supervision, similar skills and functions, interchangeability and contact among employees, and similar fringe benefits. A union chooses the appropriate unit it seeks to represent. This choice is subject to challenge by the employer before any election is scheduled and a dispute about the appropriateness of the unit would be resolved by the National Labor Relations Board.
If I signed a union authorization card, does that mean I have voted for the union?
No, but it is a legally binding document that the union can use to show that you support it for purposes of seeking an election to represent faculty at Northeastern, or to demand that Northeastern voluntarily recognize the union as your representative without holding an election.
What if I sign an authorization card and later decide that I do not want the union to represent me?
If you sign a card, but later decide you do not want the union to represent you, then you still can vote “no” if there is an election. Any election held on the question of union representation will be a secret ballot election, so no one will know how you voted. A “no” vote indicates that you do not want to be represented by the union. You also can send the union a letter telling them you don’t support union representation and revoking your authorization.
SEIU’s authorization card asks us to provide our phone number, email address, and street address. Why do they ask for this?
We do not know why the union asks for this information, but we do know that when SEIU was organizing part-time faculty, many part-time faculty reported to us that SEIU organizers visited them at home without an invitation and solicited them for support with emails and regular mail.
What should I do if I am asked to sign a union authorization card?
We believe the first thing you should do is educate yourself about SEIU, the organizing process and collective bargaining before making any decision. We are making information available to our faculty that we hope they will find useful in determining how to respond to a request to sign a union authorization card. Second, please don’t let others determine the outcome of this very important issue without you. Make sure your voice counts.
IF A UNION IS ELECTED AND UNION REPRESENTATION
Does unionization guarantee any particular contract or provisions?
No. The union may show you contracts from some other places, but Northeastern would not be
bound by those contracts. If the union were voted in, then Northeastern and the union would have to bargain in good faith with respect to “wages, hours, and other terms of employment.” Bargaining would not occur until after the union has won the representation election, and a union’s agenda for bargaining is typically determined sometime after an election.
If a union is voted in, can faculty “opt out” of union representation?
No. The results of any election would bind everyone in the bargaining unit, including faculty who do not vote, faculty who vote “no,” and faculty who do not have a chance to vote. By refraining from voting, a faculty member would be essentially casting a ballot for union representation because the lower the actual voter turnout, the fewer number of votes a union needs to win the election. Thus, faculty members who do not want to be represented in a union should vote “No” in the event of secret ballot election.
What happens if SEIU were to win an election?
The union would become the exclusive external representative of the bargaining unit, including those who voted against union representation or did not vote. This means that the union has the exclusive legal right to negotiate collective terms and conditions of employment, such as pay and benefits, for the entire group. Because the union represents everyone in the bargaining unit, individual faculty may be bound by a decision with which they do not necessarily agree or that they may not feel would be of benefit to them.
If SEIU is voted in, can I still work directly with my college about my terms and conditions of employment without involving the union?
As a general matter, no. It is important to understand that if a union is established, faculty would not be able to make individual deals for themselves that differ from the terms and conditions established through collective bargaining by the union. Thus, the university could not make separate arrangements with faculty based upon distinct or individual needs or interests with respect to their work unless it was allowed by the union contract which would need to be negotiated. Most union contracts do not allow unionized employees to deal directly with their employer concerning terms and conditions of employment. Negotiating a contract can be a lengthy process. It took 18 months to negotiate a contract with SEIU for part-time faculty.
Does a union mean better pay or benefits?
No; it just means that a union has the right to bargain with the employer about terms and conditions of employment. There is a common misperception that current compensation levels, other forms of pay, and benefits can only grow with collective bargaining. In fact, there are three possible outcomes in collective bargaining. In a collective process, members of the bargaining unit can get less than they had before negotiations began, they can get the same as they had when the negotiations began, or they can enhance what they had when the negotiations began. There are no guarantees in collective bargaining.
Would I still keep all the protections and benefits of the Faculty Handbook with a union?
Not necessarily. Once a union is elected, Northeastern would be required to negotiate over terms
and conditions of faculty employment. Those terms and conditions will be spelled out in whatever union contract is negotiated. There are no guarantees in collective bargaining. Unions often make promises to entice employees to sign an authorization card and vote for the union, but unions cannot guarantee anything. This means that a final collective bargaining agreement might not have all of the benefits and protections faculty currently enjoy with the Faculty Handbook.
If SEIU were voted in, would I still be able to have a say in my employment terms by participating in faculty governance at the college level and in the Faculty Senate?
As a general matter, no. Terms and conditions of employment would be controlled by the union contract.
Will I still retain my current conditions of employment such as fixed contract terms and eligibility for promotion after three years if a union is elected?
Not necessarily because it depends on what is negotiated in a union contract. Because there are no guarantees in bargaining, it is possible that terms and conditions of employment that you now enjoy could change.
Does the law require both SEIU and Northeastern to be truthful in the information each provides faculty?
No. The standards applicable to employers and unions are not the same. Northeastern is required to provide truthful information during a union organizing campaign, and it cannot make statements regarding what would happen in bargaining. A union is not under the same restraints. The law does not require a union to be truthful in its communications and statements, and it can make all sorts of promises about what would happen if it were voted in. The difference in standards is due to the fact that the union alone cannot deliver on its promises.
What are union dues and how are they calculated?
Union dues are the cost of membership in a union. SEIU has stated on its website that they intend to charge 1.5% of faculty compensation as union dues.
What are agency fees and how are they calculated?
In states like Massachusetts which are not “right to work” states, it is legal for a collective bargaining agreement to require employees represented by a union to either pay union dues (see above) or an “agency service fee” as a “condition of employment.” An agency service fee is a payment to the union that is supposed to reflect the cost of administering the collective bargaining agreement and representation by the union. It is usually very close in amount to full union dues. Unions typically demand that those who do not want to pay dues or the agency fee must be terminated. SEIU demanded that this type of provision be included in its contract for Northeastern part-time faculty.
What is collective bargaining?
Collective bargaining is the process in which an employer and a union representing members of a bargaining unit negotiate over the members’ wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment.
How frequently are an employer and a union required to meet when they are engaged in collective bargaining?
The law does not require any specific frequency of meetings. It simply requires that the parties “meet at reasonable times and confer in good faith.”
How long does bargaining take?
It can weeks, months or even years. Nobody can predict how long bargaining a first contract will take. What we do know is that it took 18 months for SEIU to negotiate the first contract for part-time faculty here at Northeastern.
Does the law require an employer to agree to a union’s bargaining demands?
No. An employer must bargain in good faith, but it has no obligation to agree to the union’s proposals.
If a union were elected, what would happen to faculty pay and benefits while the collective bargaining agreement is being negotiated?
Typically, there would be no increases in remuneration or enhancements to benefits during negotiations because, as a general rule, wages and benefits are subject to bargaining and cannot be changed without mutual agreement of the parties.