HR Offers Staff Information on Union Organizing Drive
To: UNH non-unionized faculty and staff
From: David Proulx, Interim AVP for Human Resources
Date: March 29, 2011
RE: Union organizing activity information
Hello all – we have been made aware of potential unionization activity being conducted at the University of New Hampshire, directed to staff. It is our understanding that the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has been conducting this drive and made contact with a number of you over the past couple of weeks. It is up to you, of course, as to whether or not you believe being represented by a union is in your best interest. However, the following questions and answers have been developed in an effort to inform you of the unionization process, and your rights and privileges. As you read this document, if you have questions surrounding this or any union organizing drive at UNH that are not included here, we welcome you to submit your questions to me via e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org . As we update this document with new questions and answers we have provided a direct link to all questions at: www.unh.edu/hr/Union-Q-and-A-2011. Please also feel free to contact your HR Partner at 2-0501 should you have any questions.
These questions and answers are related to workplace guidelines, the election process and other related issues.
Q: If I agree to sign a union card, what does it mean?
A: You should read any card you are asked to sign carefully. As with any other document you are asked to sign, you should determine the nature of the commitment you are making with your signature. The card could be a membership card which means you are actually joining the union and become subject to its rules, regulations and dues structure. Or it could be a card indicating that you would like the union to represent you in dealing with the administration.
But, most importantly, your signature on a union card means that you support the goal of staff being unionized. Depending on the number of cards signed and depending upon what the union chooses to do with your signed card, one of two things could result:
(1) If the union can demonstrate that a majority (more than 50%) of employees in the appropriate bargaining unit support the union, and can present cards to the NH Public Employee Labor Relations Board to demonstrate this, then, the union can be certified as the exclusive bargaining representative of everyone in the bargaining unit. without an election. In such a case, the union would automatically represent you even if you did not sign a card or express interest in the union,
(2) If the union can demonstrate that at least 30% of the employees in the appropriate bargaining unit have signed union cards (or petitions) the union can petition the NH Public Employee Labor Relations Board to hold an election among the eligible employees to determine whether or not employees in the appropriate unit wish to be represented by the union.
In either case, if the union wins an election or becomes the certified representative without an election, then you would be exclusively represented by the union for purposes of negotiating wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment.
Q: How many votes does it take for a union to win if there is an election?
A: If there is an election, a union wins an election by getting a simple majority (50% plus one) of the votes cast. For example, if there are 200 employees in the bargaining unit, but only 100 employees vote, it takes 51 votes to win the election.
Q: If I am not in favor of the union, can I express my disinterest by not voting?
A: If there is an election, the result of the election is determined by a simple majority of the number of people, who do vote, not by a majority of the people in the bargaining unit. Therefore, the only way to express your opinion, either for or against the union is to exercise your right to vote.
Q: If there is a union election, will anyone be able to tell how I voted?
A: If an election is held, it will be by secret ballot. No one will be able to tell whether you voted for or against union representation.
Q. What if the union has over 50% in the appropriate bargaining unit signed up and there is no election?
A. As indicated above, New Hampshire law allows a union to become the representative of employees even without an election if it can get more than 50% of the employees in the appropriate bargaining unit to sign a card designating the union as their representative. In such cases, unfortunately, you would not have any vote at all.
Q. What is a “bargaining unit?”
A. It is a group of employees who share a community of interest in their compensation and working conditions. For example, at UNH, the full time tenured and tenure track faculty form a bargaining unit.
We do not know what type of “unit” the SEIU might seek if it obtained sufficient cards to file something. There can be disagreements between the employer and a petitioning union as to what the appropriate unit should be with any group of employees. There could also be disagreements as to who should be eligible to be in such a unit. For example, confidential employees and managerial employees are excluded from collective bargaining under the law. There can sometimes arise questions as to whether someone is a confidential employee or managerial employees.
The PELRB is the ultimate judge as to whether a petitioned unit is appropriate or not, and who can be in it, based on many factors indicated in the statute and the Labor Board’s regulations. Thus, a union may believe that a certain “unit” is appropriate for representation but the University System may disagree. Such disagreements may have to be resolved through hearings at the labor board.
Q: Can a supervisor and a supervisee be in the same bargaining unit?
A: No. The Public Employee Labor Relations Act provides the following: "Persons exercising supervisory authority involving the significant exercise of discretion may not belong to the same bargaining unit as the employees they supervise."
Q: How long will this union activity last?
A: That is up to the union; the law places no limits on how long a union can take to organize an employer. However, most unions will cease their activity if they are unable to secure enough support from employees. From time to time unions have tried to organize UNH employees but our employees have not been interested and the unions eventually ceased their activity. Three years ago two other unions, the United Auto Workers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, tried to organize UNH staff but after several months gave up their effort.
It is also worth noting that any union cards that employees sign that are used to support a petition for an election or to support a petition for Written Majority Authorization cannot be more than six months old.
Q: What do staff need to do if they sign a union card and now wish to withdraw it?
A: We take no position on whether you should or shouldn’t withdraw your support for a union -- that is a matter entirely up to you. But should you decide you wish to cancel the card you signed, you should contact the union and ask it to return the signed document to you. You may also want to contact the New Hampshire Public Employee Labor Relations Board -- that is the state agency that oversees these matters for public sector employees in our state -- their web site is: http://www.nh.gov/pelrb/; and their telephone number is: (603) 271-2587. They can answer any questions you may have about this matter or any other matter regarding the process of unionization and what the law provides.
Q: If the Union is voted in, do I have to accept it? In other words, will I be forced to join even though I didn’t sign anything or vote on it?
A: If the NH Public Employee Labor Relations Board certifies that your position is part of the bargaining unit, and the union wins an election or is the certified representative by virtue of majority petition, you will be represented by the union regardless of whether you voted in favor of the union or signed a card or signed a petition. Once a collective bargaining agreement is in place you will be covered under the terms of the agreement.
As to whether or not you must join the union and pay dues, this depends on what the parties negotiate in the collective bargaining agreement. If a union shop or agency shop is established, you may be required to pay either dues or a financial fee to the union as a condition of employment. The UNH faculty have such a provision in their union contract.
Q. How much will it cost me in that case?
A . We do not know. That is a question only the union can answer.
Q: If a union is certified as my representative, can I be assured that current benefits and other terms and conditions of employment will not change?
A. No. The collective bargaining process allows either the union or the Trustees to make proposals at the bargaining table that might change the status quo. Certainly, unions may propose and obtain in many cases improvements in working conditions and compensation. However, management is also free to propose changes from what is currently provided to employees or current working conditions. For example, over the years, the Trustees have bargained major changes in the employee cost requirements for health insurance plans, with faculty paying a higher percentage of health insurance premiums than they used to in past years. This was negotiated at the table.
No one can predict the outcome of collective bargaining. As a result of collective bargaining, it is safest to say that your overall compensation and benefits may go up, go down or stay the same.
Q: I have heard the union say that if it is voted in before the end of May, or otherwise certified as my representative, it can stop the Total Rewards benefits reductions approved by the USNH Board of Trustees for non-unionized employees. Is that true?
A: It is not true. This is because the decisions to make the changes in retiree benefits and medical insurance have already been made by the Trustees and are simply waiting to be implemented. In the case of retiree benefits, the implementation process has been finalized as well and those changes are set to be implemented on July 1. In the case of medical benefits, the amount of reductions has already been decided upon by the Board. The discussions about final implementation are already underway and will be completed shortly. At the very most unionization prior to the final implementation details might mean that those details may have to be bargained but not the decision itself to cut the medical benefits.
Q: I have been visited by union representatives at my home, does the University provide home address information?
A: The University does not release home address information without employee consent. The University of New Hampshire is a public employer and as such we are subject to the New Hampshire Right to Know Law which defines many of our records as public information. Such information may include but is not limited to employee names, title, department and salary information. Again, this does not include home addresses.
Q: Can employees who support the union solicit for the union during the work day?
A: Folks soliciting for a union – or against a union – are held to the same standards as those soliciting for other purposes. They can do only if it is during the non-working time of the employee who is soliciting and the employee who is being solicited. Solicitation during the time when employees are supposed to be working is not allowed.
Q. What if it is an outside union organizer?
A. The same rule applies in that an outside organizer cannot solicit you while you are supposed to be working. Non-UNH employees are also not allowed to solicit you in your work areas. However, outside solicitors may solicit UNH employees in certain public space as long as the employee being solicited is not supposed to be working They may do so on University property that is open to the general public, such as the Memorial Union Building and the Dimond Library. Organizers are not allowed to address staff members in restricted access areas such as laboratory spaces and residence halls.
Q: What limitations can be placed upon union organizers who solicit employees at work?
A: As mentioned previously, union organizers - whether UNH staff or outside individuals - cannot disrupt the normal University business and operations. They may only approach staff before and after working hours and during customary staff breaks, such as meal times. USNH has a non – solicitation policy that applies to all workplace solicitations whether internal or external.
13. Non-work Related Solicitations.
13.1 The University System of New Hampshire also strives to provide a work environment free of non-work related interruptions. Faculty and staff are expected to engage in the work of the University System or USNH-sponsored activities during work time and in the work place, free from interruption, disruption, or distraction from sources unrelated to their work.
13.1.1 As such, solicitation of or by faculty and staff on behalf of non-USNH entities during work hours and in the workplace is restricted to non-working hours and non-work space, such as a designated web site. Institutional level policy may permit the use of lunchrooms and/or other appropriate common areas for solicitation by, or on behalf of, appropriate non-USNH organizations so long as that activity does not interfere with the ability of faculty, staff, and supervisors to maintain a work environment appropriate to the conduct of USNH’s work.
Q: Are University employees who are interested in organizing allowed to use University office supplies, photocopiers, etc. to promote or support the union organizing effort?
A: University office supplies and equipment are to be used for University business purposes only. Employees may use the fee-for-service photocopiers located in various locations around the campus such as the library and MUB. Use of technological resources such as telephones, voice mail applications, desktop computers, computer networks and electronic mail applications, is covered by applicable USNH polices such as the “Acceptable Use For Information Technology Resources” policy http://usnholpm.unh.edu/UNH/VI.Prop/F.htm#5 and Non-Work Related Solicitations http://usnholpm.unh.edu/USY/V.Pers/D.13.htm
Q: If the union wins an election or is the certified representative by virtue of majority petition at the university, can the union force its members to walk out on strike as a negotiation tactic?
A: The University of New Hampshire is a public institution and we are public employees. NH Labor Relations Law states, "strikes and other forms of job action by public employees are hereby declared to be unlawful."
Q: What role will the Employee Councils have if the union drive is successful?
A: While groups like the PAT, Operating Staff and Extension Educator Councils would not disappear, if the union wins an election or is the certified representative by virtue of majority petition, the union would be the legal and sole representative of all employees in the bargaining unit for all bargainable issues. In general, these issues are those relating to wages, benefits, hours, and working conditions. Staff councils cannot play a role that would usurp or be a substitute for the responsibilities that a union would have as the sole representative. The University, by law, would be required only to deal with the union on bargainable topics.