UW Regents 5-02052015154530 (copy)

The UW Board of Regents is committed to maintaining shared governance.

University of Wisconsin faculty and academic staffers would have won the right to unionize and collectively bargain for wages, same as other public employees, in an early draft of Gov. Scott Walker’s 2015-17 state budget, a proposal that the UW System quickly moved to stop. It ultimately didn’t end up in Walker’s budget, which was released publicly last week.

“The fix is to clarify ... that the status quo continues for UW faculty and academic staff, i.e. that the state does not provide them with collective bargaining rights,” a System official wrote in a Jan. 20 email to officials with the Department of Administration, which develops the governor’s policy initiatives.

David Miller, senior vice president for administration and fiscal affairs at the System, said he and other officials wanted to keep everything the same for employees as they transition away from state control to a public authority that will govern most System business, which under Walker’s budget would start in July 2016.

“We’re just trying to keep faculty exactly as they are (structured) today,” Miller said in an interview Thursday.

The details of the proposal were in emails requested by the State Journal under the state’s open records law.

The change would not have solved much, according to Grant Petty, an atmospheric sciences professor and president of PROFS Inc., which represents UW-Madison professors.

“I tend to believe collective bargaining for faculty and staff would not be a good fit to the current culture of UW-Madison,” he said in an email. “As I understand it, collective bargaining is based on the premise that management and workers are adversaries in the struggle for a fair deal for the workers. But if you consider the UW-Madison administration to be management, they’re not our adversaries.”

The idea, which would have broad implications for how faculty and staff are paid and what role they have in campus decision making, may have had less to do with ideology than with a misunderstanding about how System employees would be classified under Walker’s proposal to transfer the System to a public authority.

It’s one of dozens of issues the System had to sort out with the DOA in the messy process of decoupling the System and its employees from state control.

The DOA proposal would have reclassified all System employees as municipal employees, who have limited rights under Walker’s controversial Act 10, passed in 2011 despite storms of protest, to organize labor unions and negotiate pay raises at the rate of inflation. Faculty and academic staff are exempt from those provisions, which apply to classified staffers at the university and most other government employees.

In its place, faculty and academic staffers work under a shared governance model, in which they’re given a formal role in workplace and university processes and decisions. Pay raises are not capped at the rate of inflation, as they would be in a union. Miller said moving to unionize would create a conflict with shared governance, one reason the System opposed the change.

“They have shared governance today and we certainly don’t want to endanger that,” Miller said.

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

Subscribe to our Politics email!

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.