UI union group: Majority support close
Organization seeking to unionize faculty sees huge turnout at first press conference
A group hoping to unionize faculty at the University of Illinois says it's "very close" to having support from a majority of tenured and nontenure-track professors at the Urbana campus.
Union supporters turned out Wednesday to support the Campus Faculty Association, which has been ramping up its organizing activities in recent months.
The group held its first press conference since distributing brochures featuring endorsements from 95 prominent faculty, who represent "a fraction" of the total supporters, said spokeswoman Susan Davis. Several of those professors spoke at Wednesday's event.
The group has been asking faculty to sign a statement of support over the past year. Davis wouldn't disclose numbers but said the group has won commitments from "very close to a majority" of the about 1,800 tenure-track and nontenure-track faculty it believes could be part of a bargaining unit.
Once the organization has more than 50 percent support, she said, it will proceed with the next steps toward unionization.
The union would have to petition the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board to represent faculty, and that could be done in several ways.
The university could choose to recognize the faculty union, although UI officials have said publicly that they don't see a need for one. The union could conduct an organizing drive, asking professors to sign authorization cards saying they want the union to represent them in collective bargaining. Or it could seek to hold an authorized election.
It would have to first demonstrate that it has 30 percent to 50 percent support, depending on the option.
Helen Higgins-Kelly, general counsel for the labor board, said both state statutes and administrative rules drafted years ago define the "presumptive units" that could be represented by unions on campus. But deciding who is part of those units can be a contentious process, given the size and complexity of the campus.
The labor board tries to bring the parties together to reach agreement, but sometimes has to resort to a fact-finding hearing, Higgins-Kelly said.
Davis said the Campus Faculty Association is hoping that the university does not contest the union, as it did at the UI's Chicago campus. The UIC United Faculty is in its 17th month of negotiating with the administration for its first contract after organizing in 2011.
Chancellor Phyllis Wise and others have said having a faculty union at the Urbana campus would only make dealings between the faculty and administration more confrontational.
And not all faculty have signed on. Not long after the Campus Faculty Association delivered its brochure to every faculty member, an opposing group released its own list of notable professors and their reasons for coming out against a faculty union.
Representatives from other unions expressed support for the faculty effort Wednesday, including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; Service Employees International Union; University High School's new faculty union, and the Graduate Employees' Organization.
The GEO, which represents teaching assistants and other graduate student workers on campus, said a faculty union would help maintain high-quality education and working conditions on campus, particularly for non-tenure-track faculty.
"The GEO is highly invested in this cause — the working conditions of the faculty have a direct effect on the working and learning conditions of graduate and undergraduate students," a GEO statement said.
The Campus Faculty Association was formerly known as the Union of Professional Employees.