Another victory for higher education faculty in Oregon!

November 15, 2019 / Phil Lesch

In March 2017 we reported that the Executive Council Supported HB 3170 in the 2017 legislative session. We were actively involved in that session in contributing language and editing amendments to the bill that would enable the department chairs of Portland State University to organize themselves into their own bargaining unit if they chose to do so. We were also active in ensuring the bill was applied prospectively to new bargaining units and would not mandate changes to the PSU-AAUP bargaining unit. In July 2017 we reported that the bill was signed into law.

In 2018 the faculty and the department chairs at the Oregon Institute of Technology (Oregon Tech) organized themselves into an AAUP faculty bargaining unit and an AAUP department chair bargaining unit and sought to commence bargaining their first contracts. Administration at Oregon Tech did not challenge the faculty bargaining unit and negotiations on the first contract are still in progress.

Administration at Oregon Tech did challenge the department chair bargaining unit, asserting that department chairs were supervisors as defined in the Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act (PECBA). The case went to hearing with an Administrative Law Judge and the ALJ ruled in favor of administration and disallowed the department chair bargaining unit.

The organizing at Oregon Tech was done by National AAUP and AAUP-Oregon. We met soon after the decision was passed down. We all believed the decision contradicted the substantial evidence of legislative intent that exists to allow department chairs to organize into their own bargaining units if their job was still primarily one of a faculty member - where the department chaired retained the expectation for teaching, research, and other scholarly work.

We had to jointly decide if we should allow that decision to stand and not appeal. The stakes were very real - if we didn't appeal, then department chairs at all seven universities would likely be barred from organizing themselves into bargaining units. We participated on a conference call with the leadership of the AAUP, AAUP-Oregon, and other stakeholders in AAUP chapters in Oregon. PSU-AAUP requested and recommended that we should appeal the decision to the full board. The stakeholders agreed, and the appeal was submitted.

To support the appeal, AAUP-Oregon arranged for us to collectively submit an amici Curiae brief in support of department chairs being able to organize into their own bargaining unit. PSU-AAUP counsel Elizabeth Joffe wrote the amici brief for AAUP-Oregon, and it was submitted on July 1, 2019. The Amici Curiae brief we submitted is here.

The board issued its decision yesterday finding in favor of AAUP-Oregon. The Department Chairs have been certified as their own bargaining unit at Oregon Tech. The Board order is here. We expect bargaining to begin soon.

We believe that this decision reaffirms the right of department chairs at Portland State to organize themselves into a bargaining unit of department chairs, should they ever seek do to so.

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