Jon Bean has posted an interesting exchange between Mike Eichholz, founder of the FSN, and Deborah Seltzer-Kelly, who is no fan of the FA but also opposes the FSN petition in its current form. Eichholz here more clearly explains himself than he has done elsewhere, which I find helpful. I think Seltzer-Kelly also hits on the main problem with the FSN approach: Eichholz is effectively asking faculty to sign a petition in favor of an option that no one can understand at this point, because it is an imaginary construct--and may in fact prove to be an impossibility.
Eichholz's explanation is that he cannot work out the details of his Faculty Senate approach because doing so would require the assistance of the administration--which would invalidate his petition drive, something he is understandably unwilling to do. Eichholz complains that the law is set up to favor unions, and blames the law for his inability to develop his proposal any more clearly at this point. I don't know the legislative history here, and whether unions were driving the show. But it seems to me that the law's two main hurdles for the FSN have rational bases. The restriction as to when one can petition to decertify or replace one union with another is clearly enough designed to prevent workplaces from constant fighting over representation. And petitions that come from the employees must be just that: they cannot be management initiatives in disguise.
The essential problem with the Faculty Senate approach, to my view, remains that the Faculty Senate is dependent on administrative (employer) support: a body whose operating paper is subject to employer approval cannot claim to represent employees. Eichholz has not, to the best of my knowledge, made any attempt to explain how he would thread that needle, and in the absence of any such explanation he is indeed asking faculty to vote for an unknown quantity. He's running up against the law, in other words, not because it is pro-union (as it may or may not be) but because he's trying to convert an employer-employee hybrid (the FS) into a employee only union.
I personally am open to any move that would unify and empower the faculty. But I think the FSN proposal would do neither of these two things--rather the opposite, in both cases. Imagine the chaos, should the FSN manage to get their 30%, of trying to negotiate a faculty senate plan, a plan which could only come to fruition after a subsequent vote by the faculty (or two votes, if a run-off is required). This would require massive revisions to the FS operating paper, coordinated with the administration, which would presumably have to agree to sever all formal ties with the FS in order to make it a legally viable "exclusive bargaining agent". It would take months, I think, months of contentious and no doubt often heated debate. It would effectively prolong the current crisis for a long time to come.
After working closely with a number of IEA staffers, I've become rather fond of the organization. But as I've argued elsewhere, the IEA doesn't drive things around here: the members of the FA do. So the central question is really whether the faculty want a union or not. If we want a union we are going to have to pay dues; if we choose not to belong to an outside organization, we might get to pay less (as we'd not have to support IEA lobbying in Springfield and NEA lobbying in Washington--though to my mind supporting education lobbyists is a necessary investment these days). But we would have to work a lot harder on our own to provide not only leadership but logistical support, choose our own outside legal help, etc. An independent local couldn't rely on experienced professionals who could come in to assist us in a crisis. Eichholz's legal problems explain why he hasn't been able to coordinate with the current Faculty Senate, but don't explain why he thinks he can offer a solution with all of the benefits and none of the costs of a union. Does he, for example, believe that a faculty union should surrender the right to go on strike? Doing so might save a good amount in dues (one hardly needs a strike fund in that event), but of course it also vastly reduces one's leverage, a la Wisconsin.
Jon Bean's own suggestion, that those critical of the FA leadership join and run for FA office (or at least vote for those they find sympathetic), is far preferable. FA officers have just two year terms, and I believe that elections are due in time to elect new officers for the fall semester of next year. It seems to me that those who want a union on campus should participate in that election, by joining the FA. FA offices are hardly glamorous: they require a huge time commitment and burden one with a good deal of responsibility. And they are entirely voluntary jobs taken with no release from other duties and for absolutely no compensation.
My own belief is that our current leaders have done a fine job (myself excepted . . . ). But many in the leadership are eager to pass on the torch in any event. I hope that numerous people interested in these offices come forward to be considered for them.