Some members of Michigan State University’s largest labor union are attempting to recall all 13 members of the union’s executive board.
The effort is the latest move in an ongoing dispute between some members of the Administrative Professionals Association, which represents more than 1,800 MSU employees, and the union’s chairman and executive board.
Union members who are leading the recall effort call themselves the APA Watch Group, and say that the union leadership routinely denies rank-and-file members access to financial data and information about the board’s work.
The group has filed two complaints with the Michigan Education Association, of which the APA is an affiliate. One complaint challenged the March 2007 executive board election on several counts, among them that the ballot itself was confusing and favored incumbent candidates. Challengers also claimed that the outcome was influenced by an e-mail sent from APA Chairman Leo Sell to some APA members which suggested that electing newcomers over incumbents would weaken the union.
The second complaint alleges that Sell improperly allowed union members to vote by e-mail on the ratification of the latest contract between the union and MSU. Union bylaws called for a vote by mail.
Sell did not respond to telephone or e-mail requests for comment.
Danny Layne, a hardware/software coordinator in MSU’s Julian Samora Research Institute, is one of the leaders of APA Watch. He said that Sell’s e-mail was a reference to a group of physical plant employees running as newcomers to the executive board. The e-mail, which Layne has posted on the APA Watch Web site, says in part that "I am concerned about an attempt … to replace current, experienced, diverse Executive Board members with people from a single unit, with a parochial interest and view, not to mention, NO experience in APA leadership or bargaining or otherwise."
The e-mail also said that electing the newcomers would upset the board’s gender and ethnic balance, and that the typical way to join the board is to be appointed by the chairman to fill a vacancy.
The challengers lost the election to five board incumbents.
Layne and others filed a complaint with the MEA, requesting a new election. According to Layne, the MEA Board of Reference issued a decision saying that while the ballot was confusing, the case did not warrant a new election except for one position, the region delegate to the MEA and National Education Association.
Mike Ramirez was one of the physical plant employees who ran for a seat on the executive board and lost. He told MER said he began attending executive board meetings early in 2007 to learn more about what the union receives in return for the $54 in monthly dues paid by members. MSU records show that the university deducted $946,000 from APA members’ pay in 2006-2007 for union dues or service fees.
"We started to pay more attention," Ramirez said. He and fellow employees Dale Sebbon and Scott Kyes then decided to run for election.
Sell told the campus newspaper, The State News, in an article in March that it would be unfair to the membership for several members of the board to come from a single campus department, since the union represents a broad range of nonsupervisory administrative and professional workers in some 250 campus areas.
The Watch group also filed a complaint with the MEA, as well as a lawsuit, over a contract ratification vote conducted in October in which e-mail voting was allowed. Union bylaws state that votes will be conducted by "mail." Lansing Circuit Court Judge Paula Manderfield granted a temporary restraining order preventing MSU from implementing the contract, but later allowed the order to expire. She said that it was "fairly clear" that APA bylaws required a mail vote, but that holding up the contract could be damaging to the union membership. She noted that the MEA has an appeals process for such disputes.
Now the Watch Group is waiting for an MEA decision on the contract ratification process, even as they invite members to sign recall petitions and recruit candidates for the next board election in March. The group also is gathering signatures to force a change in union bylaws that would allow the general membership to elect the union president at large. Currently the executive board elects the president.
Layne told Michigan Education Report said that the group’s overall goal is to make members more aware of the executive board’s actions.
"We’ve done well," he said. "We’re trying to make it transparent."
The Watch group also is investigating the pros and cons of disaffiliating from the MEA and becoming an independent union similar to others at MSU, Layne said.