The Utah state Board of Regents voted unanimously Friday that Utah colleges and universities do not have to recognize any organization for purposes of collective bargaining.
Meeting at Snow College, the regent's action came on the heels of the Salt Lake Community College faculty voting to unionize.On May 9, members of SLCC's Faculty Association voted to affiliate with the American Federation of Teachers, a national, 900,000-member union. There reportedly has been talk of similar union movements at the College of Eastern Utah and Utah Valley State College.
Friday, Board of Regents chairman Charlie Johnson read aloud a Utah attorney general's letter that stated, "the state and its political subdivisions do not have obligations under either the National Labor Relations Act or Utah law. The definition of `employer' under the National Labor Relations Act specifically excludes any state or political subdivision thereof."
Likewise, the Utah Employment Relations and Collective Bargaining Act states that `employer' does not include state or political subdivisions of a state.
Assistant Attorney General Thomas C. Anderson wrote that the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals had affirmed that institutions of higher education are arms of the state.
AFT-Utah Executive Director Paul Henderson said his office would study its options, which might include a legal challenge. Henderson also expressed concern that the regents may have violated the state's open meetings act.
"This was not put on their agenda so people wouldn't know that they're looking at it," Henderson said.
The regents met in executive session Thursday evening and for a breakfast meeting Friday. The union issue was included in those discussions.
"This may cause some real problems, since collective bargaining is already going on," Henderson said, adding state law enables community colleges to enter into contracts and be sued as individual entities. They now recognize the faculty association under "contractual obligation."
"We expect them to honor that agreement," Henderson said.
SLCC President Frank Budd said, "There's a difference between meeting and conferring and collective bargaining. When you have such a large situation, you have to have someone to talk to."
Budd said collective bargaining suggests a union is a party to the discussion.
"We don't have a union as of today. We will not have a union," he said.
Budd would not predict how the faculty would respond. "I work for the Board of Regents, they set the policies and I'm bound by Board of Regents policy. Even Board of Trustees policies have to be in the parameters of the regents' policies."
Budd added there may be some perception that collective bargaining has occurred. But, he said, what in fact has occurred is "meet and confer" procedures used for years.