Academic professionals' union rejects UI's final contract offer

URBANA — Visiting academic professionals at the University of Illinois, who have worked without a contract since August, have formally rejected the UI's last contract offer.

Union members were asked to vote by mail on the four-year agreement, which offered a 3 percent raise the first year but no guaranteed raises the remaining years, according to union spokesman and chief negotiator Alan Bilansky. UI negotiators have said any future raises would be tied to the general campus salary program, he said.

The two sides have been bargaining since July. UI officials say they've made their final offer to the union, which represents 301 employees on campus who work on year-to-year appointments.

A handful of members voted on the proposal, rejecting it 11-3. The workers are transient, and many are newer UI employees scattered across campus, Alan Bilansky said.

Campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the negotiating team has been notified of the union vote.

"We've given our last, best, final offer," she said Tuesday. "The next step is really in the union's hands.

"If they have a new proposal, we'd certainly listen to it," she said. "We hope that they'll keep a dialogue going."

Visiting academic professionals include instructors, researchers, counselors, information technology specialists and more. They unionized in 2005, and their contract expired Aug. 15, 2011.

The UI's final offer was presented to union negotiators on March 30 in a meeting that included a federal mediator. Negotiators rejected it.

The offer included a 3 percent increase retroactive to each employee's individual appointment renewal date in the 2011-12 academic year. Bilansky said those are raises the workers should have gotten last summer, when most UI employees were granted 3 percent average raises.

The union last year filed a complaint with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board about that issue.

Bilansky said the UI now has two choices: declare the negotiations at impasse and impose the last offer, granting last year's 3 percent raises (and giving the union freedom to strike); or return to the table to "bargain in good faith."

"We have told them many times we would love to meet and get back to bargaining. We're not very far apart," he said. "They can't have it both ways."

In April, in an email to visiting academic professionals, a UI administrator had described the parties as having reached an impasse. Elyne Cole, associate provost for human resources, warned employees that if the union did not accept the last offer, "no action will be taken related to pay increases for VAP-represented employees."

One sticking point is that the university is asking the union to withdraw the unfair-labor-practice complaint, Bilansky said.

The union also wants to include merit pay as an option for managers, Bilansky said.

In a recent survey taken along with the union vote, members said they were not willing to do without merit pay or minimum raises in the later years of the contract, he said. Visiting academics have no built-in salary "steps," he said.

Bilansky said the union agreed to abide by the UI's general salary program in its last contract two years ago, at the height of the state's financial crisis, when the UI slashed its budget and imposed furlough days.

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rsp wrote on June 06, 2012 at 8:06 am

Why is it necessary to treat different classes of employees differently? Divide and conquer?

GoingtoHeck wrote on June 06, 2012 at 1:06 pm

rsp, not sure what you point is here.  UI is trying to treat Visiting Academic Professionals the same as (not different from) other UI employees.  UI has an annual salary plan that is applied across the board.  Most (maybe all?) union contracts abide by the need to work within the current tight and unpredictable budget situation.  Why should the VAPs be any different?

(this should have been a reply to rsp's comment)

Sid Saltfork wrote on June 07, 2012 at 4:06 am

Review what the State of Illinois has done to create the problem to begin with.  The state legislators have underfunded the universities in the same manner that they have underfunded the pension systems.  That has led to the lack of pay increases to keep up with inflation for the workers; not the administrators.  Where did the money go?  After all; the legislature underfunded the universities, the school districts, and the employee pension systems to get their hands on money.  $31 Billion went to pork barrel projects in 2009 which resulted in "campaign donations".  Add the CME, Sears, and other corporate deals to the cost.  The state is top heavy in administrators, and management which is another addition to the cost.  The universities are top heavy also.  What is the cost for a disgraced ex-university president, and fellow ex-administrators?  Why should some state universities with low graduation rates continue to receive large funding?  It is a career, and a game.  Legislators need money to get elected.  They take money from special interest groups.  They award money to favored projects, institutions, and groups.  They receive "campaign donations" from the special interest groups, and votes from the local citizens for "supporting" their community.  Multiply Illinois by all of the other states, and you get Congress members doing the same thing.   Our nation has a professional politician problem.  It is funded by corruption from top to bottom.  The rest of us are just fighting each other over the left over scraps.  Get rid of the two corrupt, established parties.  Form new parties based on the needs of the people; not the corporations.