Executive Vice President and Provost Tom Sullivan asked that our office respond to your concerns about the email you received from him regarding possible strike issues. The purpose of the email was to be as informative as possible with respect to both the legal obligations and University expectations of all those with teaching responsibilities.
The Public Employment Labor Relations Act (PELRA) explicitly requires non-striking University of Minnesota employees to report to work in the event of a strike by another union. In addition, under PELRA, non-striking University employees who refuse to report to work as directed, are absent from any portion of their work assignment without permission, or who abstain wholly or in part from the full performance of their duties, are considered to be engaged in an illegal sympathy strike and are subject to discipline. The reasons for requiring classes to be held on campus, and the University's expectations in that regard, are set forth in the email you received, and we expect those University employees with teaching responsibilities to carry them out as assigned.
We certainly appreciate your and others' desire to be supportive of the striking employees. However, you must do so consistent with your University obligations. The two are not mutually exclusive. We encourage you to explore other ways in which you can lend your support to the strikers while fulfilling your assigned teaching obligations.
Shelley Carthen Watson
Associate General Counsel
University of Minnesota
360 McNamara Alumni Center
200 Oak Street SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455
Phone: 612/624-4100 Fax: 612/626-9624
To which I sent the following reply:
This is an interesting stance that the University has taken, but it is both morally reprehensible and legally questionable. While I'm well familiar with PELRA, it in no way applies to the current situation.
By taking classes off-campus we are not striking. A strike would be a refusal to work, e.g. not holding class. We are instead following our legal right to not cross a legally recognized picket line. It is actually the University who would be in violation of PELRA by disciplining faculty and staff who refuse to cross a legal picket line.
Furthermore, there has been no explanation of why this rule has not been enforced before. If there is something about the University course that it must be taught on-campus at all times, why have not the many faculty who have previously taken classes off-campus been disciplined? I have personally had multiple professors hold classes off-campus for a variety of reasons, but nothing ever happened and they most certainly did not receieve thinly veiled threats from the Provost.
It is incredibly humorous that the University officials paint themselves as the ones operating in the parameter of the law when you are implying that you will fire anyone who practices their completely legal right to not cross a legally recognized picket line.
If I were you folks, I'd start worrying about counter legal action, because there are far more people than me who are upset about the University illegally trying to pressure us into crossing picket lines.
Or, you know, you could develop a heart or even the most basic level of human compassion and simply pay these people a living wage. Either one is fine by me.
I know it will not amount to anything (or even be read by anyone), but I figure if they can threaten us for no reason, well, the least I can do is threaten them right back.
But as always, for more info, be sure to check out uworkers.org for updates.
Also, if you can spare it, be sure to donate to the strike fund. The union doesn't have a pre-existing strike fund for its workers, so many of these folks are going on strike knowing full well that they may not be getting a paycheck for sometime now. The least you can do is chip in a few bucks and help out, ain't it?