McCollum to study unionization

By Shalom Baer
University Communications Student Assistant

MINOT, N.D. – John McCollum, who will start his second year instructing at Minot State in the 2019-20 academic year, will study unionization in North Dakota through the University’s Small Grants program. This will be McCollum’s first research project through the University.  

“Broadly speaking, the labor movement in the U.S. is going through a pretty low period historically,” McCollum said. “Today, about 11% of the workforce is unionized, whereas after World War II, it was nearly half.”

His project, “Extraction, Class, and Consciousness: An Examination of Unionization in North Dakota's Bakken Oil Shale Region,” aims to explore why oil workers in North Dakota have not organized on a large scale. 

“There’s this sociological expectation that when you have industry, and oil is a highly industrialized process, you’ll find union work, union workers will begin to organize, and they’ll begin using their collective power to push for higher wages, better benefits, better working conditions, as well as maybe lower hours, maybe overtime. I’m not sure we’re seeing that,” McCollum said. “We have this vast union territory, yet none are emerging. We’ve got a bit of a puzzle here, and I want to puzzle out why.”

McCollum plans to start his research by interviewing 16 union officials to learn more about their organizing strategies, as well as attending union meetings.

“Of course this isn’t a non-union region. Unions do exist here, so that’s generally who I’m working with to understand how they organize in this atmosphere,” McCollum said. “I hope eventually in this project I’ll be working with the rank and file, so to speak, getting out of both the elected and the paid offices and getting down to the shop floor.”

McCollum said he will contact several different unions in the area.

“Workers don’t tend to work across their entire industry, or even with their employer, together. No matter what they’re doing, it’s by trade. I’m slowly working my way through the trades. We’ll see if they all say the same or different things,” McCollum said.

In his grant proposal, McCollum said that Minot State is positioned in an ideal location to study the Bakken.

“Something that I’m fascinated by is how many students have done oil work themselves,” McCollum said.

McCollum’s project is one of nine that were awarded funding through the University’s Small Grants program. The results of all the projects will be presented at the University’s annual Research Poster Session in April, but McCollum hopes to take the project further than his presentation.

“Of course, I’d like to write a book, I’d like to write a few articles, but I would like to take part in what I see in the United States as a revitalizing labor movement. I would like to use the information I gather to help revive the labor movement in the United States,” McCollum said. “You have a huge opportunity here. Industry is growing where it didn’t exist before. In Williston and Watford City, all of the sudden you have this industry taking over overnight, and a lot of people have benefited from oil, but at the same time, at what cost?”

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Published: 08/22/19   

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