University of Vermont

Informed Choice at The University of Vermont

Representation Issues

Representation Issues

My biggest concern is that I will be forced to be represented by a union because my peers vote in favor of representation. What might my options be if that were to occur? Could I say, "No thanks" and continue to fall under UVM polices and guidelines for non-represented staff?

If the Vermont Labor Relations Board certifies that your position belongs in a collective bargaining unit, and a union wins an election, you would be represented by the union, whether or not you voted in favor of the union. Once a collective bargaining agreement is in place, all the employees in the bargaining unit—including those employees who voted against union representation—will be covered by the terms of the agreement. Bargaining unit employees will not have the option to say, "No thanks," if the terms of the contract should conflict with University policy, procedure, guidelines or provisions for non-represented employees. Again, your vote counts.

[Photo from UVM Campus]

If a union were to win an election, how long would it take to negotiate a first contract?

Negotiation and ratification of a first contract normally take one to two years.

As the administrative coordinator of my department, I am the budget director and deal with all staff and faculty personnel issues such as payroll issues, leave time, etc. Does this mean that I would be exempt from a union if one should happen to pass?

Under Vermont law, a "confidential employee" is an "employee having responsibility for, knowledge of, or access to information relating to collective bargaining, personnel administration or budgetary matters that would make membership in or representation by an employee organization incompatible with his or her official duties." Persons who fall within this definition—either as a matter of agreement between the employer and a union, or by a Vermont Labor Relations Board ruling—are not eligible to belong to a union because—as a principle of labor law—employees should not be required to work under conditions where they might be subject to divided loyalties. Moreover, "confidential employees" have access to proprietary information that could adversely affect the University’s ability to bargain contracts and/or conduct labor relations if such employees were members of a collective bargaining unit.

"Confidential" determinations are made on a case-by-case basis, and many factors may be taken into consideration. Such factors include, but are not limited to: the type of budgetary and/or personnel information handled; the frequency and percent of effort devoted to such work assignments; whether the employee has input during decision-making processes; whether the employee drafts policies, appointment letters, grievance responses, etc., or whether the employee serves in a confidential capacity as an assistant to anyone in authority with labor relations responsibilities.

If a union were to win an election, and if the union were to agree with the University’s assertion that a position is "confidential," or if a Board hearing determines that someone is a "confidential employee," then that individual would be ineligible to participate in an election, and would not be included in the collective bargaining unit.

Which employees are eligible to organize?

In addition to the clerical, specialized and technical employees, professional employees and supervisory employees at UVM are also eligible to organize under the Vermont State Employees Labor Relations Act (SELRA). Those who are not eligible to join a union include “managerial” and “confidential” employees, as defined by Vermont law. Supervisors cannot be in the same bargaining unit as the employees they supervise, and those who are currently represented by a bargaining unit are not eligible to vote in the upcoming election.

How does a union become recognized?

There are several steps in the recognition process:

Generating Interest — A union will first attempt to generate interest among a group or groups of employees who share a "community of interest." A community of interest may be as broad as "all non-represented staff employees at the University of Vermont" or it may be a more limited grouping of employees who perform a similar body of work.

Election Petition — If a union can demonstrate that at least 30% of the employees who share a community of interest wish to be represented by a union, the union can petition the Vermont Labor Relations Board (VLRB) to hold an election. The union must demonstrate proof of employee interest by submitting union cards (or petitions) signed by at least 30% of the employees in the community of interest, as proposed by the union. (A second union petitioning to represent the same community of interest is called an "intervening" union and they need only submit cards signed by 10% of the employees in the identified group.) The union must also submit a list of the employee positions in the proposed community of interest, even if the union has not been able to obtain signatures from all of those employees. The University must then submit a list of names of the persons holding those positions.

Voting Eligibility — Once the signatures and position lists are filed with the VLRB, the University will have a specified period of time, not less than 15 days, to respond to the union’s election petition. According to Vermont law, “managerial” and “confidential” employees are not eligible to join a union and thus cannot vote in an election. “Supervisory” employees, while eligible to join a separate union, cannot belong to the same bargaining unit as the employees they supervise. The University has the right to challenge any employee and/or position on the union’s list as "managerial," "confidential," or "supervisory." If the union and the University cannot agree on the list of employees eligible to vote in the election, the VLRB will hold hearings regarding the employees/positions in dispute. The ruling of the VLRB is final and will determine the roster of employees who are eligible to vote in the election. The list of employees eligible to vote will be posted well in advance of an election.

Election — The VLRB is responsible for holding the election. The election can be up to six months or longer following the VLRB’s final ruling on the list of employees who are eligible to vote. If the union wins the election, the University must recognize the union as the sole representative for all of the employees in the bargaining unit, whether or not they signed a union card or voted in the election.

I have heard that some employers have consented to sign Neutrality Agreements during union organizing campaigns. This sounds as though it might be a fair approach because it would guarantee that employees who are interested in forming a union would be free from coercion or threats. Would UVM ever consider signing such a neutrality agreement?

As an institution of higher education, the University welcomes open and spirited conversation about unionizing and the collective bargaining process. Neutrality Agreements, by definition, restrict the information that an employer can provide during an organizing campaign. Senior administrators, vice presidents, deans, directors, managers and supervisors would be prohibited from expressing their viewpoints on the subject of unionizing. By signing a Neutrality Agreement, UVM leadership would not be able to say how unionizing might affect current governance structures and administrative functions or how salaries, benefits, and working conditions could be affected during the collective bargaining process. Whether or not to form a new union is one of the most important choices employees can make. An educated, informed decision depends upon free access to as much information as possible.

The University of Vermont currently has four bargaining units represented by three different unions. In all four cases, the certification of these units was determined by a secret ballot vote of UVM employees after active organizing campaigns. During each campaign, everyone had the right to speak their mind on the subject, and many did so. The University has never been found guilty of harassing, coercing, threatening or discriminating against any employee because of his or her union activity.

For these reasons, it is unlikely the University would be willing to sign a Neutrality Agreement.

What role would the Staff Council play if a union were voted in?

If a union were voted in, the union would become the sole representative of all employees in the collective bargaining unit for all bargainable issues. In general, bargainable issues are those relating to wages, hours, and working conditions. Once a union is elected, Staff Council cannot play a role that would usurp or infringe upon the responsibilities of a union. At a minimum, Staff Council’s role would be significantly diminished. It could potentially continue to sponsor social activities if there were enough interest and support for such activities, but its role as a governance body would be ended—and it's important to recognize that unions are not part of the governance structure of the University. (They do not have the same access to the Administration, do not appoint representatives to serve on the Board of Trustees, the President's Commissions, search committees, etc.)