As a member of the faculty with 22 years of service at the University of the Virgin Islands, I have been actively involved in the effort to secure our right to bargain collectively with our employer. As you are probably aware, the faculty protest at the November meeting of the Board of Trustees did not succeed in convincing most of the members to drop the legal case pending in Superior Court (UVI vs. Public Employees Relations Board [PERB]), which would allow the votes we cast on November 8th, for or against unionization, to be counted.
Since that time, I have tried to put myself in the place of a Board member. What would I do if I were on the Board? What would I need to know in order to make an informed decision about this issue? How could I obtain the information? Could I expect attorneys paid to keep the case alive (they make more money that way) to tell me the truth or will they put their spin on the facts? How can I learn both sides of the case? What will be the ramifications of my decision to either drop the case or fight it indefinitely?
First, if I were a member of the Board, I would ask to see the documents filed in the case. I would want to read for myself what both UVI management and the faculty asserted in the motions filed with PERB. I would want to read PERBs decision. PERB did, in fact, rule that UVI faculty members are entitled to vote for collective bargaining. UVI faculty members are public employees and public employees are entitled to unionize.
Second, I would want to understand the faculty viewpoint. Since the Faculty has no officially approved way of providing information to the Trustees, I would solicit information from the Faculty about why they believe collective bargaining is necessary. I would want to know about other colleges and universities and how collective bargaining has worked in their institutions.
Third, I would want to know how much the fight against faculty unionization has cost the University (and the taxpayers). Two different law firms represent UVI management and the prolonged fight must have generated countless billable hours for these attorneys. As the case in V.I. Superior Court is pending, I would want an estimate of the costs still to come.
Perhaps most importantly, what are the other costs that should be considered when making a decision about dropping the case or continuing to fight in court? What will happen to the relationship between the faculty and the administration at the University? What will the message approved by the Board of Trustees, stating that the board does not believe that unionization of the faculty is in the best interest of the university, its students, faculty or the public, do to the image of the University in the publics eye? How many of our students or their parents are members of unions? How many of our graduates will become members of the teachers union (AFT) or the nurses union (VISNA) or any of the more than 30 unions representing government employees? How will all of these union members feel about an anti-union atmosphere at UVI?
So, if I were a member of the Board of Trustees at UVI, I would insist on having all the facts I need in order to make an informed decision and, after reviewing the facts, decide for myself if the fight is worth the cost, both morally and financially. If I were a Trustee, thats what I would do.
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