March 20, 2009 Volume 110 Number 6

University of Portland business students volunteer for unions

Two dozen students from the University of Portland’s Pamplin School of Business will attend the Monday, March 23, meeting of the Northwest Oregon Labor Council.

In addition to listening to union issues, students will form in groups of two to three persons to volunteer at a local union office.

“It’s part of their class grade,” said Judy O’Connor, executive secretary-treasurer of the labor council. “It can be computer work, research, walking a picket line; whatever you agree to do.”

The project is part of a human resources management class taught by associate professor of management Jack Kondrasuk. He has been bringing both graduate and undergraduate students to labor council meetings for 30 years — after the university discontinued labor relations classes.

“Most of these students come from families with management backgrounds,” Kondrasuk said. “They don’t know much about unions.”

By bringing students to a 90-minute council meeting and teaming them up for 10 to 12 hours with a union local, Kondrasuk hopes the young adults will gain a different perspective of who union people really are.

“It’s not something you can get by reading a book,” he said.

“The professor exposes students to a union environment so that they will be more well-rounded as they go out and pursue their careers,” said NOLC Board member Lynn Lehrbach, an official with the Teamsters Union.

The Teamsters Union has used student volunteers, and Kondrasuk has invited Lehrbach to speak in the classroom at the private university.

“They will pick your brain about everything, so be prepared. These kids come to learn,” Lehrbach said.

Kondrasuk’s class is set up under a points system in which a majority of the students’ grade is earned by creating a fictional HR Department. Additional points are achieved from six smaller projects that include writing a résumé; creating plans for employee pay and job training; conducting a safety inspection; and working with a union. The union portion carries the most weight, pointwise, and the union awards the points — not Kondrasuk.

Over the years, students have walked picket lines, filed papers and done research. “They like projects that challenge them; doing something that will make a difference,” Kondrasuk said.

The students are computer savvy and are good at research, Kondrasuk noted. Students could help a union computerize their office system; perform wage/benefit comparisons by industry that possibly could be used for bargaining; they will even research union history. Nothing is off the table, although Kondrasuk would rather not have students used for simple filing.

Students will be at the Monday, March 23, meeting of NOLC. After the meeting they will hang around to see if any unions are interested in their services. Kondrasuk said six teams of two to three students each will be available to start work immediately. Grades are due from the union by April 15.

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