WMU's graduate assistants, who teach many of the lower level classes at Western, particularly in the Math and English departments, will vote on whether to unionize. This follows a successful effort to obtain signatures from a majority of grad assistants authorizing a vote.
According to an email from WMU Provost Linda DeLene, the election will take place April 19-20, 12-3 and 4-6PM in room 201 of the Bernhard Center. Grad assistants will cast a secret ballot and will have a choice between "Teaching Assistants Union/AFT" and No Union.
If a majority votes for the union, it will control the negotiation of salary and benefits for WMU grad assistants. If a majority of grad assistants vote to unionize, the rest will be forced to abide by its decisions regarding negotiations whether they want to or not.
Several complaints have led to this vote. One is that grad assistants at Western are paid less than at some other government universities. Another is that health care costs are rising. Another is that a recent change in the way assistantships are calculated will lead to higher tax bills for grad assistants. Finally, some students were upset by an aborted attempt by the university to increase the number of credit hours that grad students had to take per semester.
Union dues have not been determined at this time, but would likely be between 1 and 2 percent of grad assistant salaries. This translates to $100 to $300. Grad assistants would not necessarily be required to join the union, but they would be forced to pay a "service fee" which would be almost as much as union dues.
The prospective union would be called the Teaching Assistants Union (TAU). It would be affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). The AFT, in turn, is affiliated with the massive labor conglomeration the AFL/CIO.
The AFT and AFL/CIO are well-known as far left organizations. The AFL/CIO contributes many millions of its members dollars to political campaigns. (Its members probably think that the money is used for collective bargaining.) Almost all of this money goes to Democrats. In addition, it supports particular candidates in primary elections. For example, unions supported David Bonior over Jennifer Granholm in the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial primary. Its members' money is used whether or not they support or oppose the candidates in question.
The AFL/CIO is controlled by far left-wing activists. It has taken positions on many issues that have nothing to do with collective bargaining. This is also true of the National Education Association (NEA), a distinct but similar teachers union.
Based on my impressions of the opinions of graduate assistants, the unionization vote is likely to be successful.
You can view the manifesto of the Teaching Assistants Union here.
For more information on unionism see the websites of National Right to Work Foundation, National Right to Work Committee, Stop Union Political Abuse and Eagle Forum.