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Antioch University Midwest union files with NLRB

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Antioch University Midwest and its clerical and semi-professional staff union, UE Local 796, seemed at long last to have reached a contract agreement last May. But six months later, the union asserted that the contract for the 13 Midwest staff members was not acceptable. The union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Nov. 24, and they are currently waiting a determination from that board.

The union continues to maintain, as they did before the contract was implemented in May, that the terms unlawfully permit non-union staff to complete union work, according to UE spokesperson Dennis Painter this week. The terms not only render union staff dispensable, but also work to render the union itself powerless and void.

“The contract is an unrestricted ability for supervisors to do unit work, which threatens the union through attrition — the university won’t replace people when they retire,” Painter said. “It’s a planned destruction and elimination of the union, one person at a time.”

But University Chancellor Felice Nudelman denies that the contract is anything but the school’s desire to continue to employ and fairly compensate its hard working union staff. And any attempt to open particular duties to more workers is simply the university maintaining flexibility and responsiveness to student needs, Nudelman said. When a union worker is sick, for instance, and a student needs information, the university wants to be able to respond immediately, rather than wait a week unnecessarily.

“We freely employ members of the union and we’re happy to have them,” Nudelman said. “We have no issue with the unions — unions are good, they’re part of our community, and we welcome them with open arms.

The NLRB is a federally regulated board that will gather evidence from both the university and the union and determine whether the charges are valid. If the charges are found to have merit, the board will issue a complaint, which will culminate in a hearing before a federal judge. The process can take several months, but it’s not the first time the UE has filed a complaint against the university. Painter has also filed complaints over similar issues against Antioch College in the past with unions that have existed at both schools since the 1960s.

The university and the UE first started negotiating the current contract in 2011. The sides declared an impasse over the issue of delegation of work in the fall of 2012, after which the university hired Cincinnati attorneys Denlinger, Rosenthal and Greenberg, whose website advertises “union avoidance” and “union breakdown,” to assist in-house attorneys with the negotiation process. The parties spent the spring 2013 negotiating with the help of a federal mediator. But by May the situation had not changed, and the university presented its best and final offer, which the union was forced to accept.

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