Visiting Academic Professionals OK 4-year contract

URBANA — Visiting academic professionals, who worked without a contract for a year while negotiations bogged down, have unanimously ratified a new four-year labor agreement with the University of Illinois.

The Visiting Academic Professionals union reached a tentative labor agreement with UI negotiators in August, and voted 50-0 last week to ratify it, according to spokesman Alan Bilansky. The two sides have been bargaining since July 2011.

Formed in 2005, the union represents 300 employees who work on year-to-year appointments, including researchers, instructors, counselors, information technology specialists and more. Their salaries range from roughly $28,000 to more than $100,000 annually.

The union had formally rejected what the university called its final offer in June, and the UI subsequently terminated its collective-bargaining agreement with the union, saying no raises were expected for those workers this academic year. But an Aug. 16 session with a federal mediator resulted in an agreement.

The contract provides a 3 percent raise for 2011-12, retroactive to Aug. 16, 2011, and a 2.5 percent raise for the 2012-13 academic year, which started Aug. 16. Those are the same amounts granted to other academic professionals under the general campus salary program.

No guaranteed raises are provided for the remaining two years of the agreement, but the contract allows managers to grant merit pay with the campus salary program as a guideline. The union had hoped to get both guaranteed raises and the merit pay option, but Bilansky said leaders were happy to get the university agree to the latter.

The university had earlier offered a 3 percent raise for the academic year that ended June 30 but no guaranteed raises or merit pay option the remaining three years, Bilansky said. For outlying years, the university had said visiting APs would receive the same raises provided through the campus salary program but no more, Bilansky has said.

With the new merit language, nothing in the contract prevents managers from granting higher raises, he said. Each employee will have to be vigilant about asking for raises, he added.

The raises will be determined at the "sole discretion" of the unit where the employee works and will only be granted if there is a general campus salary increase program, said UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler said.

Kaler did not have an estimate for the total cost of the contract.

The union had earlier accused the UI of trying to break the union.

"Of course we're not," Kaler said Tuesday. "We're just trying to be good stewards of the resources we have.

"I think we're always happy when we can reach agreement with valued employees. We look forward to working with them over the next few years," Kaler said.

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