Op Ed Tacoma News Tribune
February 05, 2002
VIEWPOINT: State's college administrators not required to recognize vote
of faculty; new law would remedy that
by Michael Honey
In Olympia, House and Senate members are considering legislation to
require university and college administrations to recognize and bargain
with faculty members when they choose to join unions.
Whether one likes or dislikes unions (they are only as good as their
members make them), the issue is the right to choose. Many faculty would
choose not to join, but like other Americans we cherish our rights to
freedom of association and speech. We would like to have the right to make
our own choice, just like anyone else.
The 1935 Wagner Act forbids employers from interfering with the right of
employees to join unions and compels them to recognize and bargain in good
faith when they make that choice. In many countries, workers still do not
have freedom of thought and association on the job. Unfortunately, we have
been losing that freedom too. American labor laws have been undermined and
ineffectively enforced, and many private employers still fire workers for
joining unions or find other ways to intimidate them from exercising their
Governments feel more clearly bound to support the public good than do
some private employers, yet it is still important to have employee rights
clearly spelled out in state law. It is well worth remembering that the
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. died supporting the right of public employees
to join a union.
The mayor of Memphis said the city's workers could join a union if they
wanted, but because state law did not require him to, he would not
recognize it or bargain with it. For lack of an alternative, black
sanitation workers struck for six long weeks, in a conflict that provided
the occasion for King's tragic assassination. His sacrifice, among other
things, established the idea of labor rights as civil and constitutional
rights, protected by law.
These are our rights too. Faculty members work for a living just like
everyone else. We are not a class apart from other salaried workers, nor
are most of us managers. Washington law already protects other state
employees, including K-12 and community college teachers, but
inexplicably, university and college faculty are excluded. If a majority
of faculty on any campus decide to join a union and ask for collective
bargaining, regents and administrators can refuse to recognize that
The legislation currently under consideration has been drafted in
consultation with university administrators and faculty across the state.
The University of Washington administration is supporting the rights of
its teachers - including its graduate students - to engage in collective
bargaining if they so desire.
In theory, we who teach, including full- and part-time instructors,
already have the right to join a union as American citizens. The question
for the Legislature is whether it will protect this right by compelling
administrators to recognize a union and bargain with it when faculty make
Except for Washington, only Missouri excludes higher education personnel
from labor rights they extend to other public employees. As James Gregory,
president of the UW's American Association of University Professors, told
legislators on the King holiday, "History speaks very loudly today. It
calls upon us to fix this flaw in our state laws and establish that all
employees have certain fundamental workplace rights."
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Michael Honey is the Harry Bridges Chairman of Labor Studies at the
University of Washington and teaches labor and ethnic studies and American
history at UW Tacoma.
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Note: Article appeared in hard copy of newspaper on February 5, 2002.