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Job Security & Career Growth

This information about job security and career growth is provided for non-supervisory staff within the bargaining unit, to make an informed choice about voting if the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) holds an election for representation by the union.

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded, AU has made operational decisions with the needs of staff in clear focus. All staff, even staff who could not telework, continued to receive full pay during the expanded telework period. The University avoided large scale layoffs, opting instead to make up the deficit of over $100 million through a hiring freeze, pause on retirement matching contributions, and extensive use of budget reserves. A furlough for faculty and staff—exempting employees making less than $40,000 per year—is included as part of the effort to minimize layoffs and keep the workforce intact.

Should a majority of staff in the proposed bargaining unit vote in favor of a union, the University and union will bargain in good faith, but AU will only be able to commit to that which it has the ability to pay.

Unions can bargain on the terms and conditions of employment, such as wages, benefits, grievance procedures, and promotion pathways. In some instances, unions are successful at improving these terms and conditions. Whether or not you like your manager, or whether or not they are performing well is not a term or condition of your employment, and therefore would not be subject to collective bargaining.

Generally, turnover of AU staff is consistent with turnover in the DC region. We know that the top reason that AU staff leave is lack of career advancement opportunities. This is one of the reasons we began the job architecture project in 2019, so that staff can stay at AU and have clearer career pathways for advancement.

Yes, the University’s teaching and research mission is best served by retaining our experienced staff and minimizing turnover, and AU is committed to retaining our wonderful and talented staff.

We try to ensure the success of each new hire. We use best practice job design, interviewing, and reference checking to ensure the candidates we hire have the best chance at success. We are committed to staff growth and development as discussed in the question about career growth and advancement

We acknowledge and reward service milestones. We celebrate years of service for every 5-year milestone during Staff Appreciation Week. Our 20-year club has grown to over 300 members (and has a special celebration each year).

We have policies in place so that staff with disciplinary or performance issues are protected from immediate termination. Managers do not have the power to make arbitrary or capricious decisions about staff employment. Even though DC is an “at-will” employment district, we only allow immediate terminations for very serious disciplinary matters, and then only in consultation with our staff in HR Employee Relations. Instead, we ask managers and employees to work through issues using our progressive discipline policy, so that both parties have the chance to make changes to improve the situation. 

If a staff position is eliminated due to business needs, staff are given advance notice of the separation, severance pay, and in many cases, help finding a new job through a placement service.

We have a process in place so that if someone is terminated, they have the right and ability to appeal to the Staff Personnel Review Board (SPRB), which is made up of their peers on staff. The SPRB may appoint a hearing panel to review the facts related to the separation and appeal. They will summarize their findings and send them to the Assistant Vice President of Human Resources for final decision.

During the spring 2020 COVID-19 crisis, we did not lay off any employees, and maintained pay for staff whose jobs were not remote capable, because staff retention is important to us. In the midst of the pandemic, the University’s top priority has been the health and safety of our employees, which includes keeping the community intact by minimizing layoffs. During this time, other DC area universities have instituted significant layoffs.

Unions have long sought to protect employees from arbitrary employment decisions, like sudden loss of a job under “at-will” provisions. Many industries, even unionized ones, still lay off employees when there is a financial crisis, so there are no guarantees. AU has long protected employees from capricious management decisions, through our progressive discipline polices and performance program. Every employment decision is reviewed to ensure fairness and confirm there is truly a business need to make a change. 

Yes. Each year there are staff who are promoted in their roles, have their positions reclassified, or who apply for and are accepted for bigger roles in other departments.  And, to help further improve staff mobility, AU began a job architecture project in 2019 which remains underway. This job architecture project will define career pathways for staff to identify alternate positions that will help staff grow in their careers at AU in a more transparent way. Once complete, accompanying learning opportunities will be offered to help staff learn and grow for their next role.

AU has provided learning opportunities for staff for many years, on a variety of topics, because we believe that an educational institution should also be a learning organization for its staff. We continue to refine and add new material to our offerings and encourage staff and managers to take advantage of what we have.

It depends on the details of the collective bargaining agreement. Many, though not all, unions utilize a seniority system for promotions, meaning that only those with seniority can get promoted, regardless of their merit, skill, or effort in previous roles. A seniority system can help create a steady career path, but only in jobs with multiple levels to be promoted into. Moreover, vacancies must exist in order for promotions to occur, regardless of the promotional pathways.

Currently, the University provides staff learning opportunities for personal growth and career advancement, These programs would be subject to collective bargaining if staff unionized.

Is there more job security with a union?

Many industries, even unionized ones, still lay off employees when there is financial hardship, so there are no guarantees. 

AU has long protected employees from inconsistent management decisions, through progressive discipline polices and our performance management program. Every employment decision is reviewed to ensure fairness and a true business need to make a change.

If you have questions or feedback for American University regarding staff unionization, email union@american.edu.