UI senate to discuss faculty unionization

UI senate to discuss faculty unionization

URBANA — The campus senate at the University of Illinois will take up the contentious issue of faculty unionization next semester, planning its first general discussion on the topic in recent memory.

Members of the Senate Executive Committee agreed informally this week to schedule a "balanced" discussion about collective bargaining next spring as the issue continues to heat up on campus.

The Campus Faculty Association, which supports unionization, has been assessing faculty support for collective bargaining for months, meeting with professors one on one across campus.

Last week, the provost's office sent a communication about faculty collective-bargaining efforts to department heads — and posted it on the UI's website — that the CFA says is misleading.

The document, "Frequently Asked Questions about Potential Faculty Unionization at Urbana-Champaign," describes the process for certifying a faculty union by collecting signatures on union authorization cards, how professors can revoke their signatures on those cards if needed, and how collective bargaining might affect merit pay and tenure, among other issues. It also notes that most of the UI's research peers across the country do not have faculty unions.

Provost Ilesanmi Adesida said people on campus were asking questions about the issue and the campus put out "the facts as we know it." He said the issue is ultimately up to the faculty to decide.

"I'm agnostic on this," he said.

CFA leaders say their effort, which has been under way for 18 months, is not an official union campaign. Organizers are trying to visit 2,000 faculty members on campus to gauge their support for collective bargaining, said CFA President James Barrett, UI professor of history.

"There is no collective-bargaining campaign, there is no card drive," Barrett said. "It's strictly factual."

Those who support a potential union are being asked to sign a copy of the CFA's mission statement, which includes collective-bargaining rights for faculty, he said.

That has caused confusion among some faculty members about whether they're actually signing union authorization cards, said education Professor Nicholas Burbules, a member of the Senate Executive Committee, who said he's received several complaints about the union's tactics.

"I don't see why people are being asked to sign anything" if there is no card drive, Burbules said.

Barrett said it's the best way to see if professors are committed to the idea of collective bargaining. It's also helpful for younger faculty members who don't yet have tenure protection and may be fearful of publicly backing a union, if they see other names on the list, said Kathy Oberdeck, CFA member and professor of history.

"It tells them they're not alone," she said.

Burbules and campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said that some professors at the UI Chicago, where faculty recently unionized, didn't realize their signatures would ultimately be used to certify the union.

Barrett said he wasn't aware of that problem in Chicago and said the CFA has no intention of using the signatures collected now for an official unionization campaign.

Burbules said some professors also have complained that they were interrupted while working in their offices or were visited multiple times by union organizers.

"I've never taken a position on unionization publicly," Burbules said, but added he's concerned about the process taking place "behind closed doors" rather than through an open campus debate.

CFA representatives said they've been careful to try scheduling visits in advance and not interrupt work, to use personal emails rather than the campus email system for communications if at all possible, and to avoid repeat visits to professors who don't support the union.

Professors who are skeptical of collective bargaining say their primary concern is that it would weaken shared governance, which gives faculty a role in the operation of the university.

The senate — made up of elected faculty members, students and academic professionals — is the proper place for an open discussion of collective bargaining and what it could mean for the campus, Burbules said.

Barrett welcomed that idea, as long as the discussion includes pros and cons on collective bargaining.

"It would be very useful to have an open discussion on this campus," he said.

Matt Wheeler, chairman of the Senate Executive Committee, said he would wait to hear from appropriate senate committees before setting a date or format for the discussion. The senate's General University Policy Committee plans to submit an agenda item outlining parameters for the discussion early next semester, said Burbules, who chairs that panel.

Barrett, a longtime member of the senate, said a faculty union is not a threat to shared governance or merit-based pay for professors. The CFA's mission statement states that it "strongly supports the ideal of shared governance."

Meanwhile, the policy committee of the local chapter of the American Association of University Professors is also studying the collective-bargaining issue, said Leslie Struble, chapter president.

The national AAUP, headed by UI Professor Emeritus Cary Nelson, supports faculty collective bargaining but the local chapter has not taken a position to date, said Struble, a UI engineering professor. The chapter focuses on advocating for faculty interests within and outside the university, she said.

Struble said a previous straw vote showed chapter members evenly divided on the issue of faculty unionization on the Urbana campus, with opponents concerned that it would weaken shared governance.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
sgdavis wrote on December 12, 2012 at 10:12 am

Thanks to Julie Wurth for this article.  With numbers of full-time faculty falling and enrollments and tuition rising at UIUC, it is time to have a full and fair discussion of the possibility of faculty unionization.  I write as a member of CFA:  I think unionization could bolster shared governance on campus and give faculty a larger and moe effective role in solving some of the problems we face.

It is disappointing, however, to see the provost's office distributing inaccurate information, apparently to confuse faculty.  Contrary to the provosts FAQ memo, there is no card-drive at this time, and no one has signed a union authorization card. All the activities Campus Faculty Association engages in at UIUC are constitutionally and legally protected, and deliberately suggesting  that CFA's activities are not somehow above board may be the University's attempt to undermine employees' constituional  right to discuss organizing a union.

Contrary to Professor Burbules' assertion, nothing is taking place "behind closed doors."  The Campus Faculty Association is a democratic organization open to any faculty member (tenure-track or non-tenure track)  interested in joining or participating.  All its meetings are open, and its web page  (cfaillinois.org) hosts a statement of purpose and is frequently updated.  CFA took a poll  of its membership in 2011 on whether to explore the possibility of pursuing collective bargaining, and the elected leaders  followed the instructions  of the majority of the members.  

Although CFA was not a part of the successful unionization effort in Chicago, to our knowledge there have been no complaints about deceptive organizing practices in the successful UIChicago campaigns last year: in fact, the faculty union there  (UICUnited) was forced by the University's legal maneuvering to hold a second card drive election last spring -- and the results were more decisively in favor of unionization than in the first election.  This result is undoubtedly of concern to the administrators on the UIUC campus and helps explain the misleading memos from the Provost's office.

Statements from the administration on open-mindedness and their "agnosticism" have to be placed next to the UIUC's long history of refusing to negotiate in good faith with campus unions, as currently with SEIU, which represents some of the lowest paid workers on campus, and the Adminstration's great resistance to granting  minimal wage improvements graduate students at the lowest pay levels. The Illinois Education Labor Relations Board has repeatedly found the UI to be in violation of its labor code over the last several years.   So much for agnosticism.

I am hoping that the University Administration will turn over  a new leaf and begin an honest and collegial discussion with faculty about the unionization issue.  

Susan Davis

SouthSider wrote on December 12, 2012 at 1:12 pm

I don't intend to argue this all out in this venue, Professor Davis, but it is you who are misleading people. Of course the process IS happening behind closed doors, as CFA representatives and hired guns from the national AAUP are going to individual faculty offices across campus to "persuade" them to join the union. There is no representation of other points of view, and for many younger professors little context and history for the debate on this campus. I know some of them have felt pressured.

A series of these individual decisions could have binding force across the campus, with faculty being required to be represented by the union and pay dues to it whether they want to be or not. And no one, yet, is talking openly and honestly about what the consequences of unionization would be for the campus as a whole, its quality and national stature, and its processes of shared governance (which you SAY you support, but which are belied in the accusatory and hostile way in which you and other CFA members talk about "the Administration").

I look forward to this debate and putting the facts before the faculty. It's what the Senate is for.

Nicholas Burbules

ClearVision wrote on December 18, 2012 at 10:12 am

Union organizers used the same underhanded tactics while trying to unionize academic professionals several years back. They hounded us in our offices, lied about the signature card issue, etc. To their credit, APs didn't fall for the union rhetoric. I suspect faculty will make equally informed, intelligent choices on the issue.

moderndaycowboy wrote on December 12, 2012 at 10:12 am

A union or tenure? One or the other, you don't need both.

Citizen1 wrote on December 12, 2012 at 12:12 pm

We can't afford more over paid, over benefitted fat cat with an entitlement mentality

Sid Saltfork wrote on December 12, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Citizen1;  What about farm subsidies?  You always complain about the "over paid, over benefited fat cats with an entitlement mentality".  What about you?  What have you contributed thru effort, and service to others?

Citizen1 wrote on December 13, 2012 at 6:12 am

Actually I'm opposed to farm subsidies.  Current farm programs encourage farmers to plant certain crops in areas not suitable to those crops and screw up the market forces for everyone.  I also opposed most of the "so called" wetland programs in place at the current time.  Farmers can be paid to taking land out of production in strips along streams and ditches.  Check out some of those strips  -- someone should tell the government that water does not flow up hill.  There is no oversight or reason on how these programs are applied thus throwing taxpayer money down the drain.  Government programs for farmers are created in Washington by people who know nothings about farming or wetlands or rivers or exactly what is an oil seed crop.  Check out Tung oil. 

Please stop lumping everyone who doesn't agree with you into your own off-based lables.  I am not a farmer.  I do think government is out of control in alot of areas often acting with complete disregard to economics or the taxpayers who have to pay for it.  I also think that a reduction in the sheer number of public employees would solve some problems.  And yes, most public employees are spoiled, under worked, overpaid brats with no concept of how things work in the private sector.


Sid Saltfork wrote on December 14, 2012 at 7:12 pm

Regardless of your misinformed, stereotypical rant toward "most public employees"; you are getting your wish.  There has been a reduction of public employees.  Many have left since they see their employment future as dim with much diminished, guaranteed benefits; and no raises.  Their vacancies have not been filled due to prospective employees choosing not to enter public employment for the same reasons.  You still have the layers upon layers of administrators; but not the front line employees.

I recently talked with one of my past trainees.  I was told that the workloads have increased to the point that only the most critical things can be addressed.  When I retired, it was 300 plus cases.  Now, it is many more than that.  Of course; you, and others will blame the front line public employee for services being delayed a longer time while you rant about stealing their pensions which is their money.  They feel the hate directed toward them even though they pay taxes just like you.  They still have to serve people that blame, and hate them without expressing emotion.  They remember the smug remarks about how they would regret a defined pension when others 401k's were doing good.  Now that the 401k's did not do good; they get blamed for having a defined pension which they paid into, but their employer did not pay into.

Yeah, they serve you when you need help.  However, that does not stop you from anonymously heaping hate on them.

It is good that my time is over.  I would have loved catching you standing in my line requesting your deserved services from the state. 

Lostinspace wrote on December 12, 2012 at 3:12 pm

There's a mismatch here.  Faculty unions (with which I am familiar) tend to be interested only in salaries, benefits, etc.  That does not seem to be the problem at the UI.  What IS the problem is governance, and unions tend to steer clear of that issue.  A union proposal that dealt with governance issues might stir greater interest among the faculty.

We have seen the faculty being very firm on such issues in the past few months, and an organization devoted entirely to them might find traction.

vcponsardin wrote on December 12, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Having served on the faculty senate, I can assure people it is largely a gutless, ineffective chatterbox with little power or influence over the administration.  I have been employed at four univerisities in my career and have never seen a university in which the faculty has so little power or control over the institution.  If the faculty votes to unionize, the administration will have brought it on themselves by their relentless alienation of their own faculty, their corrupt and inept behavior and the perpetual cycle of low pay raises that have been well below the national average for years.

Lostinspace wrote on December 12, 2012 at 5:12 pm

"...a university in which the faculty has so little power or control over the institution."

True; and the deadening passivity of the faculty is mind-boggling.

Bulldogmojo wrote on December 13, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Shared Governance?!?!

Wise and her gang of goons will never let faculty sit at the table. They are not in the business of parting with power as evidenced by the repetition of corruption at the Administration level. In a recent town hall Wise declared she would make equal pay for women a priority while at the exact same time her labor negotiators were out trying to dismantle pay structures thereby paving the way for the very subjectivity where discriminatory pay practices flourish.

If the academics really believe the University has their best interests in mind then they should sit quietly and what for the benefits to come. If not, they should start/join a union so they can have a real voice at the table.

They will also get the benefit of immediate support from those of us who are already proud union members.

Sid Saltfork wrote on December 14, 2012 at 2:12 pm

As a union member, I would agree with Bulldogmojo with the exception that a unionized faculty would also be expected to support those who are already proud union members in return for their support.  It is imperative that unions stick together. 

Yes, I am retired; but I choose to continue paying my union dues.  I do it because unions protect the workers from the abuses by management regarding health and safety, a fair living wage, and earned benefits in old age.  America is declining to a shrinking middle class living on substandard wages with no benefits.  The inequity of income has resulted in the small minority of the well off, and the immense majority of the working poor.  Unions helped keep the balance in America.

Bulldogmojo wrote on December 15, 2012 at 11:12 pm

The only "parasites" I have had the displeasure of meeting at this University are Phyllis Wise who has her snout in the the sky box level payroll who has been here over a year and hasn't recovered our past due funds from the State (her job to do) all the while she has her other hand in Nike's back pocket. B. Joseph White and Richard Herman (Still on the payroll, nuff said) Randall Kangas VP of budget and finance who just got a $12,000 a year raise (Merit?) now at $187,000 a year lighting cigars while Rome is burning, and OH yes Hogan who is given an all expenses paid lifestyle while writing a term paper on the Marshall Plan and his Tammy Wynette "girl Friday", Troyer who bilked us for six figures for her additional damage to the credibility of this University.

So what's the total? about $6 Million+ and climbing to Vet, hire, invesitgate, finally terminate with golden parachutes and then replace administrators only to do it all over again. Not one of them in a union.

I AM in a 401k its called the self managed plan and I've made every payment into it. I'm confident the State of Illinois will have its IRS exemption revoked and everyone will go back to paying social security.. Problem solved, not comfortably, but solved


Alexander wrote on December 16, 2012 at 10:12 am

AggieCPA: If you care so much about babies, then why don't you and your GOP lords care about them *after* they are born: 1. social help 2. guns (ahem)

Look at the payouts to big business and the defense budget and ask who's supporting people sucking us dry.

Bulldogmojo wrote on December 18, 2012 at 8:12 am

Brilliant, AggieCPA turns the tone of any intelligent conversation into a misinformed Doomsday preppers, religious fundamentalist rant only he is involved in. He must be a reporter at NG