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Staff Voice

This information about staff representation and influence is provided for staff within the bargaining unit, which may be limited to non-supervisory staff in the Provost’s division, to make an informed choice about voting if the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) holds an election for representation in the SEIU Local 500.

If an election results in a union, all staff in the collective bargaining unit will be represented by a third party, an alternative to the current structure. All of their problems and concerns regarding the terms and conditions of employment would run through a shop steward or union committee, rather than their manager, HR representative, Staff Council, or AU-sponsored committee such as the Benefits Advisory Project Team. For instance, staff and their managers may no longer be able to discuss things like pay, benefits, or complaints directly but would instead have to involve the union.

In AU’s experience, unions have engaged in bargaining once a year or once every other year, but it can be up to three years. All of the terms and conditions of employment in the agreement would only be negotiated at that frequency. This potentially limits the university’s flexibility to be responsive and adaptive when a need arises. Under our current structure, when we hear about ideas or needs, such as expanding leave so that adoptive parents have the same access as birth parents (which we did in January 2020), we can act quickly to make changes.

Staff are members of various bodies that provide input and advise leadership on important matters. These groups include:

  • Staff Council is an elected body that represents all staff, holds open meetings, and their leadership discusses issues and concerns to HR and AU leadership. 
  • Staff serve as representatives on the Benefits Advisory Project Team which advises HR on its decision-making around all benefits and the Budget Committee which advises university leadership during the budget process.
  • Committees and work groups exist across the university, both within departments and cross-campus, and are influential in decisions that affect daily operations. This has been especially true during COVID-19, with many work groups convening to figure out how to make radical changes in our new remote environment and then implement them. The voice of staff has been critical to these efforts.
  • Staff Council represents AU staff at Board of Trustee meetings and events. The Trustees look to our staff leaders for updates on their activities and to share staff concerns. Separately, President Burwell meets with staff regularly to discuss issues from their perspective.
  • Staff have a voice on the President’s Council for Diversity and Inclusion, which seeks to work collaboratively across faculty, staff, and students to improve inclusion at the university. Staff can utilize their voice through the Affinity Groups, both to raise issues and as advisors.

The collective bargaining agreement would govern over all existing avenues of communication regarding the terms and conditions of employment for those in the bargaining unit represented employees. All concerns and issues would run through the shop steward or union committee, and the union representatives would take them up with the university. Substantive changes to the terms and conditions of employment would only be made periodically when new collective bargaining agreements are negotiated and only union members would have the right to vote to approve new agreements.

While a union might provide an alternative process to bring complaints through a formal grievance process, that would only apply if the behavior in question violated the collective bargaining agreement. Processes already exist for staff to bring complaints against supervisors, fellow staff, and faculty, through the complaint policy and procedures outlined in the Staff Personnel Policies Manual and the Faculty Manual. A staff union cannot demand or make changes to the Faculty Manual, nor can it guarantee better behavior from the faculty or managers.

Would the union be an additional voice with leadership?

The collective bargaining agreement governs over all existing avenues of communication regarding the terms and conditions of employment for those in the bargaining unit.  

Concerns and issues would go through the shop steward or union committee, and union representatives would take them up with the university. Substantive changes to the terms and conditions of employment would only be made when new collective bargaining agreements are negotiated every few years.

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