TRAVERSE CITY — Northwestern Michigan College officials likely will head to the collective bargaining table for the first time in the school's history to negotiate faculty members' employment terms.
NMC's non-supervising faculty overwhelmingly voted to form a union during a secret-ballot election that concluded Wednesday. Sixty-five faculty members cast 'yes' votes in the Michigan Employment Relation Commission election, compared to 16 'no' votes, according to Michigan Employment Relations Commission records. One vote was not counted because of a spoiled ballot.
Nancy Gray, chairwoman of NMC's faculty council, said faculty members are excited for a chance to negotiate with the college's administration and board of trustees. She added those who supported the union drive also want to reach out to the faculty members who voted 'no.'
"Mostly, the reaction is people are thrilled that there was such a resounding majority," Gray said.
The election was the culmination of a process that began in December, when the MEA submitted a request for the vote to MERC on behalf of faculty members who contacted them about being represented as a collective bargaining unit.
Ted Iorio, a Grand Rapids-based attorney who represented the MEA throughout the process, said faculty members soon will gather to elect a bargaining team and outline negotiation proposals, assuming college officials don't object to the election results before they're certified March 23.
Marguerite Cotto, NMC's vice president for lifelong and professional learning, said Thursday she does not anticipate objections, though she had not yet discussed the issue with the college's other administrators.
Cotto said she considered the election results "actually good" because they give college administrators "the beginnings of the road map forward." She also called the vote spread interesting.
"It certainly suggest that there is a clear, common body of questions, concerns and themes that the faculty would like us to address in a different way," she said.
"Clearly, there is a substantial majority of them who have a desire for a different conversation with us," Cotto said.
MEA leaders weren't surprised by the results, Iorio said. He added MEA and faculty representatives will approach negotiations with an eye toward "collaboration, not conflict."
"We can only control what's on our side of the table, and that's what we'll do," he said. "We really hope the college tones down the mode of their communication prior to the election."
Iorio was referring, in part, to a message NMC Human Resources Director Aaron Beach sent to eligible faculty members on Feb. 20.
The email warned them not to "let someone else" decide whether they'll be represented by a union, and "whether it is worth risking the loss of wages and benefits in collective bargaining by a third-party who does not know you, this College, or our culture ... ."
College administrators contended the email's language -- approved, they said, by attorneys from Detroit-based law firm Miller Canfield -- was not an attempt to coerce faculty members into rejecting MEA representation.
It only aimed to remind faculty members to vote -- only seven of the 86 full-time and three part-time faculty eligible to vote declined to do so -- and to remind them that college administrators and employees have long relied on a culture of "shared governance" in which employees work directly with administrators to resolve conflicts and make decisions.
Cotto said the election outcome, with nearly 80 percent of voters supporting union creation, was not an indictment of the college's administration or board.
"It simply is a statement of the faculty, as I said earlier," she said. "They are seeking a different approach and a different style for communication."
NMC's seven elected trustees could not be reached for comment.