SPRINGFIELD — The University of Illinois Chicago's new faculty union's executive committee may decide by Monday what to do next after a ruling this week saying tenured and nontenure-track faculty members can't be in the same bargaining unit.
The opinion came Thursday from the Fourth District Appellate Court in Springfield and means the UIC's union will have to function as two bargaining units, for tenure-track and nontenure-track faculty.
UIC English Professor Lennard Davis said the union has two options — to appeal to the state Supreme Court, or to go ahead with two bargaining units in the organization.
"We feel that the decision was mistaken," Davis said.
According to the court's ruling, there are 800 employees in the tenure system and 400 who are nontenured.
Faculty voted to unionize on the Chicago campus last year. The university administration, however, opposed combining all faculty into the same bargaining unit. The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board ruled in favor of the union, but last fall the university appealed.
University spokesman Tom Hardy could not be reached for comment.
The union sent an email to its members Friday, saying they have the right to appeal.
"However, we should remember that our most important goal — made even more pressing by the repeated and embarrassing failures of leadership at the highest level of the university — is for our faculty to start exercising some control over their future," the email said.
"If we cannot bargain as one unit, we want to be immediately ready to bargain as two," the email said.
"The goal is to begin collective bargaining as soon as possible and within the framework of Illinois law."
UIC business Professor Darold Barnum said having two bargaining units won't change the union organization.
"The UIC United Faculty will have the same constitution, the same officers and the same negotiating team, which consists of both nontenure-track and tenure-track members," Barnum said. "The only difference will be that the negotiating team will be bargaining for two contracts instead of one."
Barnum believes the court decision will mean the UI's central administration will face higher labor costs and lower morale.
"A single bargaining unit encourages organizational efficiency and effectiveness," Barnum said.
The effort to unionize at UIC grew out of frustration among faculty who felt they had little input into how the university was being run, Davis said.
Before the ruling and before President Michael Hogan resigned, members of the UIC United Faculty sent letters to Hogan and the UI Board of Trustees, asking them to withdraw the university's court case.
Davis said Hogan's resignation and Robert Easter's appointment as the next president could affect UIC's faculty union.
Davis said Hogan's resignation sends a strong message that the Board of Trustees wasn't happy with Hogan because of his combative relationship with faculty members, which includes unions.
He said it's possible that Easter could disregard the court ruling and allow tenured and nontenured faculty members to be included in one bargaining unit.
"If he did, that would be fantastic," Davis said.
On the Urbana campus, organizers with the Campus Faculty Association said interest in unionizing has increased among faculty in recent months. It grew with each revelation about the Lisa Troyer case, said Harriet Murav, Slavic languages professor and president of the association, referring to the resignation of Hogan's chief of staff and the investigation into anonymous emails she reportedly sent.
The Urbana organizers have been talking with faculty about their concerns and talking with different organizations such as the American Association of University Professors. UIC United Faculty is affiliated with the AAUP and the American Federation of Teachers and Illinois Federation of Teachers.
"I think faculty here no longer want to be in the position of merely giving advice. We want a voice that counts," Murav said.
She said the ruling doesn't mean efforts to organize will be suspended.
"We are still at the exploratory stage and now we can orient ourselves toward two bargaining units," Murav said.
News-Gazette staff writer Christine Des Garennes contributed to this report.