University of Washington faculty members are organizing to try to form a union. The UW’s president says such a move would undermine the relationship between professors and administrators.

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A group of University of Washington professors is leading an effort to unionize the university’s faculty, but UW Interim President Ana Mari Cauce says she has “grave reservations” because she believes it would undermine the relationship between faculty and administration.

Faculty organizers say their aim is to bring more pressure to bear on the Legislature to fully fund education and to empower professors to lobby lawmakers. Higher salaries and better benefits would be a secondary goal.

Organizing has been going on since spring.

“The state’s chronic failure to invest in funding, from Pre-K to graduate school — we finally just had enough, the state Supreme Court has had enough, teachers have had enough,” said Amy Hagopian, an associate professor at the UW. Hagopian is a former Seattle School Board member and secretary of the UW chapter of the American Association of University Professors, and her son Jesse, a Garfield High teacher, is playing an active role in the Seattle teachers strike.

In an email sent to faculty Thursday, Cauce and Interim Provost Jerry Baldasty wrote that a union could affect the excellence of the university. It could diminish the voice of the faculty, rather than enhance it, they said.

“We have grave reservations about the effect collective bargaining would have on our shared governance process,” the email read. “We also have serious concerns about its impact on the freedom we as faculty enjoy to pursue excellence in teaching, research and scholarship, the cornerstones of our success as a university.”

Hagopian said the group wasn’t surprised by the letter.

She described UW faculty as “very loyal” to the university, but said the administration “has consistently failed to involve faculty in Olympia.”

Pay is an issue, said Diane Morrison, a professor in the School of Social Work, who said many classes are taught by lecturers on short-term contracts.

She called it “the right move because the university is becoming increasingly run like a business, rather than a public service.”

Faculty at four of the state’s six public universities are represented by a union. Central Washington University, Eastern Washington University, Western Washington University and The Evergreen State College are all organized under the United Faculty of Washington State, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers. Only the UW and Washington State University faculty are not unionized.

Bill Lyne, president of United Faculty and a professor at Western, said he believes the union has helped the state’s public universities attain a higher profile in Olympia and get more state funding.

In an email, Lyne said universities are legally prohibited from engaging in grass-roots organizing or making political contributions. “At the end of the day, what legislators do is count votes and count money,” he said. “The United Faculty of Washington State brings both.”

Could a unionized faculty lead to a college strike, like the one happening in Seattle schools now? Lyne said that’s unlikely because the issues that surround public-school teacher contracts are very different. “We’ve been organized since 2006, and we haven’t come close to having a strike,” he said.

He did say United Faculty has helped boost pay. Before the four campuses were unionized, faculty salaries “were among the lowest in the country, relative to our peers,” Lyne said. “Now we are at least average or above.”

The union effort is being organized through Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 925, which has also led efforts to unionize adjunct and contingent faculty members at Seattle University and Pacific Lutheran University.

SEIU 925 represents 6,000 UW employees, including administrative staff, hospital classified employees, and medical and technical employees. It’s one of 10 unions that represent 18,000 of the UW’s 40,000 employees, including those in the UW Medicine system.

SEIU is also campaigning to get Gov. Jay Inslee to appoint the next two UW Board of Regents candidates from a wider background. Currently, eight of the 10 regents hold corporate positions. The two appointments set to expire are held by Joanne Harrell, a director at Microsoft, and Orin Smith, former president and chief executive of Starbucks.

In their email, Cauce and Baldasty wrote that “collective bargaining over such matters as evaluation, promotion and tenure would not only affect the excellence of the University but would diminish the voice of the faculty, sideline the Faculty Senate and eclipse the collaborative approach we have worked on for generations.”

They also noted that “both of us come from families with deep ties to unions, and we appreciate the benefits that unions have provided to workers in this country.”

Hagopian said one of the challenges of organizing will be to identify who should belong in a faculty union. In addition to professors, the UW’s teaching employees include part-timers, contingent faculty, clinical faculty and lecturers.