PTers in Mass. Faculty Union Win Arbitration Complaint Filed Against Their Own Union

The union representing Massachusetts’ community college professors has been ordered by an independent arbitrator to uphold the results of a March 2015 statewide election for two adjunct representatives to its board.

The Massachusetts Community College Council represents nearly 1,600 full time and more than 4,000 adjunct professors teaching at the state’s 15 community colleges. The MCCC is the largest affiliate of the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

Despite the fact that adjunct professors and part-time professional staff make up two-thirds of the union membership and contribute 40 percent of its dues revenue, many feel the union fails to represent them adequately. Of the 21 seats on the union’s board of directors, only the two at the center of the appeal are set aside for adjuncts.

The board’s action to decertify the adjunct-only election was the result of a complaint that Professor Diana Yohe, president of the Bristol Community College Council, had violated union rules when she sent her chapter’s members an email endorsing one of the three candidates in the adjunct election.

Arbitrator Tammy Brynie, hired by the MTA, accepted the position of the appellants and wrote in her opinion that the MCCC’s decision to decertify the election was “arbitrary and capricious” and that “the determination that Yohe utilized Association resources was in error and it was made without a critical examination of, or inquiry into, relevant facts and circumstances…The Board’s further determination that the March 2015 election would be declared null and void, and that the election…would be re-run, compounded the error.”

Brynie’s decision left no room for ambiguity: “The Appeal filed by the BrCCC is sustained. As remedy, the results of the May 2015 election for At-Large/Part-Time Adjunct Director are vacated. The MCCC Board shall announce the vote totals of the March 2015 election for At-Large/Part-Time Adjunct Director and the results of that election will be certified.”

Two part-time faculty members, Carol Gray and Linda Grochowalski, retained their at-large part-time/adjunct seats on the MCCC Board.

Brynie ruled that union president Yohe’s endorsement letter did not violate the union’s election by-laws because she did not use union resources and endorsements are a common practice within the union. Brynie noted in her decision that a member of the union’s executive committee sent a similar endorsement email in the re-run election.

National part-time faculty activist Keith Hoeller, in an email, commented on the victory for the part-timers: “Other unions have conducted this kind of bullying. It is easy to do when the full-time faculty are protected by tenure and the part-timers have no job security. Our lack of job security serves to maintain the hegemony of the tenured class of professors. This may explain why the unions have practiced this “tenure or nothing” approach to job security and why they keep focusing on the alleged solution of adding more tenure-track positions and leaving the contingents in the academic ghetto. It may be that independent arbitrators, state public employment relations commissions, and the courts may be our only realistic avenue of appeal and redress. Unfair labor practices are in order when unions violate state laws. It would be natural to appeal to the state and national unions, and to the AFL-CIO. But all of these have tended to support the tenured hegemony as well. For union democracy it is essential that contingents elect and choose their own representatives.”

Brynie wrote, “this endorsement e-mail, sent by a MCCC Executive Committee member, undermines any assertion that endorsing any particular candidate necessarily constitutes a violation of MCCC election policies, rules and/or requirements.”

Yohe called the decision a “complete victory for transparency and a fair and democratic election process within the union. I hope the union leadership learns from this decision that elections matter, that member voices must be respected, and that members deserve transparency.”

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