The origins of the University Faculty Association were in 1917 when faculty organized as the Montana State Teachers’ Union (Local 119) in order to protect academic freedom – this was in response to the politically influenced University suspension of a faculty member who revealed a pattern of tax avoidance by Anaconda Company.
This local, likely the first higher education faculty union in the United States, was affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), and it soon became inactive. It was the Butte Teachers’ Union (BTU), established in 1934 as an AFT affiliate, which negotiated the first public employee labor agreement in the United States in 1935. The Montana legislature enabled collective bargaining on the part of public employees only in 1973 and for public school teachers only in 1975.
In response to a large-scale layoff of faculty in 1978 (allegedly in response to a University budget contraction), the old Teachers’ Union at the University of Montana reestablished itself as the University Faculty Association, and in affiliating with the Montana Federation of Teachers and the national American Federation of Teachers, reclaimed its old local number (119) and began to bargain collectively on behalf of its members. When the MFT and Montana Education Association (MEA) merged in 2000, the UFA became a local of this new statewide affiliate (MEA-MFT).
MEA-MFT’s field consultants assist higher education locals in continuous organizing, bargaining, and in matters related to the maintenance of their CBAs (internal matters related to grievances and student complaints, and related legal matters). And the higher education locals caucus as a group at general assemblies, and their leaders sit on the Coalition of Union Faculty (CUF – a MEA-MFT standing committee) and two serve on the MEA-MFT’s Board of Directors (UFA has had a seat here for many years).
In these forums, and at the levels of the Montana University System Board of Regents and the Montana Legislature, UFA leadership bargains and lobbies for fair compensation for UM and other organized Montana faculty, for fair retirement and benefits programs, and for high quality and accessible higher education for Montana citizens. And we work to protect the rights of our members in the areas of promotion and tenure, academic freedom, and academic governance.