UI, union will begin bargaining this month

URBANA – The University of Illinois and its visiting academic professionals will begin bargaining Jan. 24, although an appeal filed by the UI and an unfair labor charge filed by the union are pending.

This is the first time the UI will bargain with any of its academic professionals at the Urbana campus. The visiting academic professionals voted last April to form a union, which will represent about 370 employees. They hold the same types of jobs other academic professionals do, but differ in that they are hired in a different way.

The Association of Academic Professionals at the UI sought to organize the visiting employees first because they have fewer rights – for example, they are not entitled to advance notice of termination – but the organization will next seek to organize nonvisiting employees.

The new union members and the UI will discuss ground rules for the negotiations at their first meeting, but Gene Vanderport, area representative for the Illinois Education Association, said the union will be ready to bargain on substantive issues as well. The issues will include grievance procedures, compensation and notice of termination.

"We're eager and optimistic and excited," Vanderport said.

The UI objected to the visiting academic professionals forming a bargaining unit, arguing all academic professionals belonged in any such group, but the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board ruled that the visiting employees were an appropriate group to organize. The UI's appeal of that decision is pending.

The UI also asked for a stay of its obligation to bargain until the appeal was decided. The labor relations board refused, and the UI appealed that decision also. In early December, the Fourth District Appellate Court ruled the UI must begin bargaining.

The IEA filed an unfair labor practice charge with the labor relations board last month, alleging the UI refused to bargain. Vanderport said the union asked the UI to bargain in the fall, but UI officials were still seeking a stay and said they would not negotiate until the appeal on the matter was decided.

"We don't want that to color the bargaining, but we have to protect our legal precedents," Vanderport said. "When you do wrong and fix it later, that's fine, but you still did wrong. We can't just ignore what has happened."

But Deputy University Counsel Steve Veazie said the UI was exercising its legal rights in requesting a stay. He said UI officials don't want to negotiate a contract and then have the court rule the visiting academic professionals are not an appropriate bargaining unit, but they are complying with the court's order to bargain.

Veazie also said UI officials consider the unfair labor practice charge moot, as their request for a stay was denied and a date to begin bargaining is scheduled. He said there was only a short delay in setting a date for negotiations to begin while the court considered the UI's request for a stay.

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