On Thursday before the insurrection in Washington DC, professional and clerical employees at Augsburg University voted overwhelmingly – 75% voting yes – to form their staff union with OPEIU Local 12.
The vote was the culmination of a campaign that became public in October when the staff came forward to request union recognition. It was conducted by the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services involving 134 employees.
“For over a year, coworkers have come together to imagine a stronger Augsburg community — a community that values and trusts its staff,” said Uriah Ward, a Student Financial Services Counselor. “We have spent countless hours organizing and we’re excited that an overwhelming majority of staff have voted to form our union!”
According to the union, Augsburg staff members, who have faced layoffs, furloughs, pay and benefit cuts, and safety concerns during the Covid-19 pandemic, organized around having a voice in the decisions that affect them, their coworkers, and students. Other long standing concerns included a lack of paid parental leave, racial and gender pay gaps, and increasing workloads without compensation.
“The more I’ve listened to my coworkers about what a staff union would mean to them, the clearer the need becomes for a union,” said Deanna Davis, an Academic Program Coordinator. “As Augsburg staff, we deserve clearer job descriptions with limits on the additional responsibilities an employee can take on without commensurate pay. We need a paid parental leave benefit where employees do not have to rely on accrued paid time off. We have proven that we can help Augsburg thrive while working remotely. At the very least — Augsburg staff are worthy to hold the power to have a say.”
Augsburg employees became the first unionized professional staff at a private university in Minnesota. The campaign was almost entirely organized remotely through zoom meetings, phone calls, text, email, and social media, a new development in union organizing necessitated by the pandemic. The group now turns to begin negotiating their first contract with the Augsburg administration.
Augsburg media relations emailed the following statement:
“We are proud of the process; our priority was for staff to hear all perspectives and have adequate time to discuss and reflect on this vote—a vote that will shape and inform our work lives together for years to come. We have already learned a great deal through frank discussions with valued Augsburg staff over the months leading up to this union election. Now we are looking forward to the constructive work ahead.”
A focus of the campaign has been the connection between the well-being of staff members and the support they provide to helping students succeed at the university.
“The last year has clarified that we need to be at the table when decisions are being made about our working conditions and employment at Augsburg,” said Mike Bloomberg, a Librarian. “We need systems in place to protect and support each other, and a legally binding contract will give us those systems. I believe in the Augsburg mission and I think our union will give us the security Augsburg employees need to better live that mission and serve our students.”
“I am really excited to see what we can accomplish by coming together as a group in this historic way that will not only benefit staff at Augsburg, but the entire Augsburg community,” said Lauren White, Assistant Director of Leadership Gifts and Development. “This union is another step toward greater equity and transparency and will make Augsburg a better place to work and learn for everyone.”