United University Staff (USU), a new staff union at the University of Michigan, recently announced the unionization of its first unit: information resources. More than 200 information resource staff—staff who work in UM libraries, museums, and other collections and archives—supported USU membership.
Many of these employees work closely with the librarians, archivists and curators represented by the LEO-GLAM union, which recently ratified its first-ever contract with the University. USU Resource Sharing Specialist and Organizer Samuel Simpson said the LEO-GLAM contract represents a positive shift in UM culture that USU can build on.
“We are happy for them that they were able to negotiate in good faith,” Simpson said. “That’s what we all seek to do: to be at the table when the decisions are made and to be able to negotiate something not only for ourselves, but also for the University as a whole. We are all working for the same goal.
Meredith Counts, research associate at the Museum of Dentistry and USU committee member for the Information Resources Unit, said that in addition to LEO-GLAM negotiations, USU seeks to build on other campuses and national pushes for better working conditions.
“I think this is a great time for GLAM fields organizing nationally – public library, museums — there is great momentum,” Counts said. “It’s also a really exciting time on campus, with the nurses picketing trying to get a decent contract, a secure contract, with the new LEO-GLAM contract and with our coming of age, it’s a really exciting time.”
According to a Press release at USU, information resource workers raised a number of concerns about working conditions, including pay inequity, limited opportunities for promotion or professional development, lack of accommodations for people with disabilities and inflexible childcare and remote work policies.
Counts said that in his experience, many UM employees struggle to make ends meet. She said USU is pushing for the University to allocate its money in a way that reflects the value of its staff.
“A lot of us can’t afford to park on campus when we get to work, or eat on campus,” Counts said. “These are luxuries. In fact, staff members take extra jobs to be able to afford to work at this university. And I think there is a disconnect when we hear how many millions of dollars are spent on a board board or how many billions are in the endowment, but we have staff who live hand to mouth.
Ashley Bates, program manager for the Zell Writers Program and a member of the USU Organizing Committee, said she believes the University should better respond to the unique needs of different units and departments instead of implementing blanket policies.
“It would improve my quality of life tremendously if I had more flexibility and more opportunities to work from home, especially in the summer, and right now in the summer we have to come into the office two days a week really just to sit in the office because there are no students here,” Bates said. “We’re all happy to be in the office if there are students to meet us, but that seems pretty silly and quite arbitrary, especially when we’ve seen after the pandemic that we’re all perfectly capable of doing it from home We can imagine what a different, more flexible policy would look like – we’ve done it, we’ve been through it .
According to Bates, USU plans to expand its reach a “job family” at a time. “Job families” are generic terms used by the University’s Human Resources department to describe different groups of staff. With USU just announcing majority support for the information resources job family, Bates said he’s next turning his attention to academic, student and educational services personnel.
“The job family that just unionized is called information resources, which is primarily a group of library and museum staff,” Bates said. “I’m in a family of jobs called (academic), student and instructional services, and that’s the next group. It’s about 1,400 employees that we’re looking to organize in the second phase of our organizing drive, and we don’t know who the third group will be, but the goal is to go job family by job family. until All Staff (UM) was part of this umbrella union called University Staff United.
Katy Mattingly, executive secretary in the office of the dean of the College of Engineering and a member of the USU organizing committee, said USU strives to understand these unique needs by working directly with staff in all areas of the life of the UM.
“The easiest part of our job is to talk to each non-union, unprotected (UM) staff member, one person at a time, about the benefits of combining our powers and asking each staff member, ‘What what matters to you? What works in your job and what doesn’t work for you, and what would you like a union to fight for (on your behalf)? Said Mattingly.
Mattingly said unionizing staff, especially those involved in student services, not only benefits workers but also students.
“Letting me retire before I turn 75 or give me a 9% raise instead of a 2% raise is not detrimental to students,” Mattingly said. “It’s actually extremely helpful for students not to have constant turnover, underpaid staff, overworked staff. So I’m especially excited that the next family of jobs we’re going to organize is Student Services. They have some of the highest workloads and lowest salaries in the entire university.
In a USU press release, University Regent Michael Behm also expressed the benefits of unions for UM culture.
“We know from experience that when workers here at (the University) organize unions, their involvement in decisions affecting their work leads to improvements both in their own lives and in the quality of education, research and health care that the University is able to provide,” Behm said.
In a statement to the Michigan Daily, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the University continues to support efforts to unionize faculty and staff, but has not formally entered into talks with the USU because they did not go through the University’s union recognition process.
“The Board Resolution on Organizing and Union Recognition provides the process for a union to seek University recognition of a new bargaining unit,” Fitzgerald wrote. “University Staff United has not, at this time, approached the University about this recognition. As stated in the resolution, the University recognizes and supports the fundamental right of its employees to form unions and to bargain collectively. .
Summer News Editor-in-Chief Samantha Rich can be reached at [email protected]