August 18, 2002 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

Eastern Oregon University's faculty may be less than five months away from having a union that is recognized by the state.

Eastern's faculty could conduct an election as early as this fall to determine whether it will have a union that would be recognized by the Oregon University System.

Numerous questions need be answered before an election is conducted. One of the most pressing issues involves who would be included as members of the collective bargaining unit.

This is a question that the state Employment Relations Board will soon address.

Vickie Stilley-Cowan of Salem, an administrative law judge with the ERB, heard testimony on this issue last week at EOU.

The hearing was conducted to determine if Eastern's librarians and part-time faculty would be members of the union.

Stilley-Cowan will make a decision in about two weeks on what she believes the make-up of the collective bargaining unit should be. Her decision can be appealed. The board will later make a final ruling on the issue.

Representatives of the Oregon University System and the American Federation of Teachers took testimony from faculty and administrators during the hearing. The American Federation of Teachers, a union that is part of the AFL-CIO, wants EOU's faculty to be recognized by OUS as unionized.

EOU's faculty formed a union earlier this year but the Oregon University System will not recognize it until an election is conducted.

If the ERB makes its decision soon EOU's faculty may vote on unionization sometime this fall, said English professor Marilyn Ewing, interim co-chair of Eastern's union.

Ewing is encouraged by the response she has received, noting that more than 75 percent of EOU's faculty signed union authorization cards earlier this year.

"That means a lot. The response far exceeded our expectations,'' Ewing said.

Ewing said that the most important reason to have a union is to make sure that faculty are treated fairly and equitably. She added that a union would also help give faculty "a significant role in decisions which define their professional lives.''

EOU has 90 to 100 full-time faculty and 25 to 30 part-time faculty.

Eastern's administration has reservations about the unionization of the faculty, said John Miller, provost and dean of academic affairs.

"The interest of students and faculty is best served when faculty and administrators can work out problems together, face to face without bringing in a third party to help us,'' Miller said.

Miller has been Eastern's provost since July 1. He came to EOU from Southeastern Louisiana University where he was a dean. Miller said that one of the things that attracted him to EOU was the close working relationship between faculty and administrators. He believes this collegial atmosphere would be threatened if a faculty union is formed.