Why Did You Join North Dakota United?

New higher education members talk about why they’re ND United

By Kelly Hagen, Director of Communications

The top reason given by educators and public employees in the state of North Dakota for why they haven’t joined North Dakota United is this: “I was never asked.” This makes membership recruitment difficult at worksites that don’t have a high membership rate, and there is no engrained culture of members asking colleagues to join their union. And if they’re not asked, they’re not going to join.

Starting in January of 2017, three organizers have been patrolling the campus of North Dakota State University (NDSU), and introducing themselves to faculty and staff. These organizers — Courtney Schaff, Julian Dahlquist and Ross Hettervig — are asking the question, “Would you join North Dakota United?” to public employees who have never been asked previously, at NDSU and eventually expanding on to University of North Dakota and campuses across the state. Their results have been very good.

We talked to two new members at NDSU to find out why they joined our union, and what they would say to someone they knew who isn’t a member, about why they should join, too.

Lydia Tackett

Lydia Tackett, assistant professor of geology at North Dakota State University

Lydia Tackett is an assistant professor of geology at NDSU. She’s originally from Pennsylvania, and came to her position at NDSU two and a half years ago, after having received her Ph.D. in Earth Sciences from University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Why did you join NDU?

“I’m from Philadelphia, which is very union. And, to be honest, I kind of assumed I was in one automatically. So, after the election, I was going to all of the live feeds and meetings with faculty and the Faculty Senate, to see what do they think is going to come from the State Board of Higher Education. And through that I met Courtney, and I found out, one, that I wasn’t already in the union, and two, that North Dakota doesn’t allow us to collective bargain.

“I’d never lived in a place where that didn’t always happen. So it kind of took finding out about all of these situations to learn that I would need to actually join. So when I found out that there was a union, and I had to actually take a step to join, it was just, yes, obviously I’m going to join. Who wouldn’t?”

What would you tell a colleague who isn’t a member about why they should join NDU?

“The story that made me want to join was I heard that the state Legislature was considering a bill that would make it so that we, the faculty, who are submitting federal grants, would have to get approval from the state Legislature first. … That goes against academic freedom, and my career requires funding. I work really hard to get funding.

“I would tell them that even though the bill now excludes higher education, there’s already so much bureaucracy that is involved in writing a grant and submitting it. So, the potential of adding another step from non-researchers and non-scientists, people without a scientific background who are reviewing your grant proposal before you can even have it submitted to federal agencies, if that was something that might come up again, that is scary. Since so many of the faculty here require funding to do what we were hired for, which is to do research, be good scientists, be part of a larger scientific community, and solve important problems, we must be able to fund those activities that we do.”

Chelsea Pace

Chelsea Pace, assistant professor of movement at North Dakota State University

Chelsea Pace started in the fall of 2014 at NDSU as assistant professor of movement, and is the publicity director for the Theatre Department and, this spring, she is directing “The Odyssey: A Play” by Mary Zimmerman, which will be performed April 27–29, and May 3–6. She received her bachelor’s degree from Binghamton University, and her Master’s of Fine Arts from Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, Arizona State University.

Why did you join NDU?

“I’m excited about that! I would have joined so much sooner, but I didn’t know we had a union. Because it’s a right-to-work state here in North Dakota, and this is my first big job out of grad school. In Arizona, there was no union for graduate students. So, coming to North Dakota, I wasn’t looking to join a union, but I wished we had one. And I was excited when Courtney came to chat with me about it.

“So when she started telling me about her work at North Dakota United, and asked if she could come by my office and have a chat, I said, ‘Sure!’ And when she first started telling me about North Dakota United, it took me half of a click to realize, oh my gosh, we have a union! Because I had not considered that we would or could. So, I was glad to hear we had a union, and I think I was a very easy sell. Because I believe in unions, even without the power of collective bargaining. I think it’s important to present a united front, especially when the thing we’re presenting is a united front for are the people who live here in North Dakota. It’s not a special-interest group; the people in our state are not a special-interest group. I think being able to work with the public, for the public, and being united in that, I think that’s really critical.”

What would you tell a colleague who isn’t a member about why they should join NDU?

“I think I start with: ‘Did you know we have a union?’ That was a surprise to me. And then, I’d say, ‘I just recently joined and I’m really excited about it.’ Because the benefit to me, if someone asked ‘Why should I join?’ I think it would be that presence in Bismarck. That year-round, in and out of session presence in Bismarck, because there are some anti-higher education viewpoints in Bismarck. That’s really scary to me, as a tenure-track faculty member. I can’t imagine how it must feel right now as an adjunct or a lecturer. And to know that there is a union advocating for all of us, and we get lumped in with the superheroes who teach in K-12. That we can all be in this together and moving the state of North Dakota forward in terms of education and retention.”