What is a union?
A union is a group of workers united together to make decisions about conditions affecting their work. Unions work to advance respect, security, and economic justice in the workplace and social justice across communities.
Establishing a union is a legally recognized process that requires the support of a majority of workers it represents. Once a union is certified, it becomes the representative for all of the members within the bargaining unit. This representational authority means the union can engage in collective bargaining (i.e. negotiating a contract) with the employer to determine the direct working conditions for its members.
Why are we building a union?
University Staff United is working to build a union for all regular, non-supervisory* staff across all three campuses and Michigan Medicine at the University of Michigan (UM). A union for UM staff will unite us into one collective voice that can effectively advocate for improvements and greater protection in the workplace.
Our effort to organize is led by UM staff members who are dedicated to creating a new union at UM. We are committed to representing the needs and concerns for the 15,000 non-unionized staff. We believe that fostering strong relationships and practicing democratic decision-making will enhance our power in the workplace. The group of staff who have taken up the task of building our union is called the Organizing Committee.
We’ve spent the past three years in conversations with more than 1,300 of our colleagues, and we’ve heard many of the same needs and desires again and again:
- pay that reflect the value of our work, that keeps up with the increasing cost of living, and that’s equitable across all three of our campuses;
- reasonable workloads that allow us to perform at our best, and freedom from ever-growing responsibilities without compensation;
- real opportunities for career advancement and meaningful rewards for experience
- greater support for families and caregivers;
fair policies for flexible and remote work, grounded in genuine operational needs and trust for staff;
- protection from discrimination and mistreatment and the security to stand up for ourselves and for one another.
- Most of all, we want a real seat at the table where decisions are made about our work.
*Supervisors and the people they supervise can’t be in the same union due to labor laws. However, supervisors may form their own union. You’re considered a supervisor if you have the power to hire/fire, discipline staff, or you approve timesheets for staff. If you’re one of the many people who is ‘sort of’ a supervisor, or have questions about your eligibility, reach out to an organizer and we can check your eligibility.
Who will be included in this union?
Our union will include all 15,000 non-supervisory staff across Ann Arbor, Flint, and Dearborn campuses, as well as Michigan Medicine, divided into different bargaining units based on job function (also referred to as Job Families or Units). Our first bargaining unit includes Libraries and Museums, Academic and Student Services, Instructional Services and the Arts, a diverse group of ~1,600 people who make education possible at the University of Michigan. Each unit will have its own contract to allow us to delve deeper into the unique needs of our jobs.
Who will run our union?
We will. Unions are democratic and all major decisions will be made by us, members of our union! We will nominate and elect our officers and stewards. We will vote on our contracts and dues.
What could we win? How can this benefit me?
Unions at UM have already made huge wins in areas such as job security, wages, protections from uncompensated increases in workload (also known as “job creep”), career advancement, converting many term-appointed employees to permanent positions, secured retirement benefits, and more.
Here is a list of union gains at UM. Imagine what else we could accomplish!
What is the process?
Once enough people (roughly 60%) have signed up to become members, we will petition management to recognize us as a bargaining unit.
Under the neutrality resolution passed by the Board of Regents, there will be no election once a majority of workers have signed up as members. Here is the full text of the resolution.
Signing a membership card is your way of voting “YES” to a union.
What about dues?
The dues structure is set by the members themselves, and are subject to change.
You will not pay any dues until after the union is recognized and you have successfully bargained a contract. The raises we get will likely far exceed the amount of dues. For comparison, LEO dues are 1.6%.
What are dues used for?
Dues pay for things like our union staff, legal costs, office space and other necessary expenses. Dues legally can’t go toward political candidates or issues; political donations would come from a separate PAC, unrelated to dues.
How might our relationship with management change?
It’s difficult to say, but in many cases, supervisors like the structure and stability a union contract brings. A union contract provides a clear grievance process, so both employees and management have specific steps to follow in the case of disagreements.
Will I face retaliation for being involved in the union?
No. It is illegal for management to retaliate against or intimidate workers for organizing a union. In addition, the UM Regents have passed a neutrality agreement asserting that supervisors must remain neutral regarding unionization.
Additionally, National labor law protects our right to discuss unionization during work, using work equipment, and during working hours.
I’ve heard bad things about unions. How do we know this will have a positive impact?
Ultimately, unions are composed of the people that make them up, and union policies are set by the members themselves. In other words, the union is what we make it. We encourage staff to join one of our committees and come to meetings to bring up any issues they may have to ensure their voice is included.
How does the repeal of Right to Work affect us?
The repeal of Right to Work won’t affect you at all. So called Right to Work laws ban the collection of dues from people who choose not to join a union. In 2023, Michigan became the first state to repeal a right to work law, but it only affects private sector workers. Because we’re public employees, we can’t be required to join a union or to pay agency fees, due to the 2018 Supreme Court ruling Janus vs AFSCME, which supersedes state law.
Is USU affiliated with other unions?
USU plans to affiliate with AFT-Michigan. See our About page for more information.
What can I do to help?
A great way to get involved is to join one of our committees. Whether you’re interested in having conversations with staff, planning events, or helping with our socials, we have plenty of opportunities for folks to get involved.
We want to hear from every UM staff member. Share your story with us so we can get a better understanding of the main issues impacting staff.
Email UMstaffsolidarity@gmail.com to get in touch!