March 3, 2009 — The Public Employee Relations Board counted ballots Tuesday and University of the Virgin Islands faculty voted overwhelmingly to have the local chapter of the American Association of University Professors act as their collective bargaining agent.
The ballots have been sitting in sealed envelopes for more than two years, since November 2006, when the UVI administration filed for a writ of review in V.I. Superior Court and the court stayed the election pending the outcome of that case.
"It's been a long five years," said Kathy Sheats, a past president of AAUP who teaches nursing at UVI, Tuesday evening. "We first tried to designate AAUP as our collective bargaining unit in 2004. From January of 2004 to now, we've been held up in hearings and legal maneuverings. We couldn't even count the results of the vote in 2006. They sealed the ballots."
The UVI faculty initially filed for AAUP representation in January 2004 (See "UVI Administration Fighting Faculty Unionization Bid.")
After the UVI administration challenged the faculty's efforts to hold a vote on unionization, PERB ruled in September 2006 UVI must allow the election and on Nov. 8, 2006, the UVI chapter of AAUP held the vote. UVI filed for a writ of review in V.I. Superior Court and the court stayed the election pending the outcome of that case.
In late February, the court ruled the ballots must be counted. (See "Court Ruling May Put UVI Union Back on the Table.")
Between 1 and 2 p.m. Tuesday, with AAUP and UVI administration representatives watching, PERB staff unsealed and counted the ballots from that 2006 vote.
Seventy-two faculty voted to have AAUP be the collective bargaining agent, while two voted against, Sheats said.
The PERB must now take the vote to the PERB governing board to be certified, at which point, UVI will have an opportunity to file a response with PERB. Once the vote is certified, the faculty will have collective bargaining representation, though UVI will have an opportunity to file a response to the certification.
"Assuming its a thumbs up from PERB, then the administration will be required to negotiate in good faith with the faculty union," Sheats said. "As it is now, there has been some negotiations over working conditions, but the playing field isn't level. The AAUP chapter has no standing to negotiate on behalf of its members."
When or if the union has bargaining authority, Sheats would like the union to push for more financial transparency at the university.
"I'd like to know how much has been spent on attorneys to fight unionization," Sheats said. "We should be able to see the books. It is public money. Is it being spent in a way that puts the students first?"
But she is optimistic a union will mark the beginning of better things.
"Hopefully there will be better practices for grievances, going forward," she said. "And shared governance is something we've been working on for a long time. Decisions about programs and about policies at UVI are made better when those impacted by those decisions participate. That's my view anyway."
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