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UW-Whitewater faculty, staff exploring unions

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Kayla Bunge
January 15, 2010
— UW-Whitewater faculty and academic staff are starting to educate themselves about a recent change in state law that allows them to unionize.

Both the Faculty Senate and the Academic Staff Assembly, which represent the interests of the faculty and academic staff on campus, are working to inform their constituents about collective bargaining and answer questions about its impact at the university.


Faculty have shown mixed reactions to the idea of forming or joining a labor union, said Hephzibah J. Kumpaty, chairwoman of the Faculty Senate.


“There are some who feel strongly about it. There are some who are neutral. And there are some who don’t feel strongly about it,” said Kumpaty, a chemistry professor. “I’ve heard all three groups talk about it … and it’s difficult for me to glean who’s on what side.”


Academic staff also are split on the issue, said Denise Ehlen, chairwoman of the Academic Staff Assembly.


“The opinions on collective bargaining vary,” said Ehlen, director of research and sponsored programs. “There’s a core of people who have been in support of it for decades and are very happy the UW System now has this option for them. There are others who feel that it could have an impact on work quality.”


Faculty are tenured or tenure-track professors or instructors in academic departments at a university. Academic staff include administrative staff and instructors who are not tenured but are on a fixed-term contract.


The Faculty Senate plans to soon organize forums on campus for faculty to learn what collective bargaining would mean for them, Kumpaty said.


“We first can learn what this is all about and then decide for ourselves how we want to go about it,” she said.


The Academic Staff Assembly plans in spring to again discuss collective bargaining during a seminar, where staff will ask questions and leaders will provide answers, Ehlen said. The group in the future could invite speakers, hold a formal Web seminar or create a fact sheet to communicate the information, she said.


“We want to know what do they know, what don’t they know and what want to know,” she said. “We’re trying to be strategic in our approach. … We want to make sure they’re well aware so they can make informed choices,” she said.


The UW System has issued a formal statement indicating that it is neutral on the issue of forming collective bargaining units. It is up to the faculty and academic staff to decide whether to participate, UW-Whitewater Chancellor Richard Telfer told the Gazette in December.



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