UI denies attempt to break visiting academics' union after terminating bargaining deal
URBANA — The University of Illinois has terminated its collective-bargaining agreement with a campus union after the union voted against ratifying what the university has described as its final offer for a new contract.
As a result, no raises are expected for this coming academic year for UI employees represented by the union of visiting academic professionals, according to a message sent this week from Elyn Cole, the UI's associate provost for human resources. Last month, university administrators indicated they planned to give merit-based raises averaging 2.5 percent to employees this coming academic year.
Meanwhile, union leaders said they were consulting with legal staff to review options "and the best way forward," said Sarmad Gilani, chairperson of the Association of Academic Professionals in a message to the approximately 300 members represented by the union. Visiting academic professionals work on year-to-year appointments and unionized in 2005.
"It's pretty clear they're doing everything they can to break this union," said Alan Bilansky, union spokesman and chief negotiator. "If the goal was for us to get angry emails from our members saying, 'Sign this contract right away,'" that hasn't been the reaction, Bilansky said. Most messages they've received from members have been supportive of the union, or they seek additional details, he said.
"Of course, it's not a union-breaking move," said UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler. "We are committed toward working out a contract with this organization, and we hope they are, too."
The university has the right to terminate the collective-bargaining agreement after it expires, according to Kaler.
The visiting academic professionals' most recent contract expired last August, and union representatives have been meeting with university negotiators since last summer. The UI said it presented its final offer to the union earlier this spring.
Union members, voting by mail, rejected the proposed four-year agreement, which offered a 3 percent raise the first year but no guaranteed raises the remaining years. UI negotiators have said any future raises would be tied to the general campus salary program, according to the union. The UI's last offer does not include merit increases for visiting academics, which the union says have always been part of its contracts.
For the 2011-2012 academic year, union members did not receive raises as part of the campus salary program and the union filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Illinois Department of Labor. That case has not been resolved yet.
University officials have said the UI and the union are at an impasse, while union members said they are close to an agreement.
"There is not much room between the two parties," Bilansky said.
Representatives from the university and union next meet Aug. 16 in the company of a federal mediator.
The UI's decision to terminate the contract that expired last year does not mean the union and university have to start all over the bargaining process, according to Kaler.
"We do feel like we're close to an agreement," she said, and the UI terminated the agreement to "create incentive to actively complete that."