UI union group: Majority support close

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.


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SouthSider wrote on February 06, 2014 at 7:02 am

The web site with 120 named professors and other faculty leaders opposing unionization can be found here:


An FAQ explaining the facts of unionization and what it would mean for faculty can be found here:



Citizen_100 wrote on February 06, 2014 at 8:02 am

Here is what you get with a faculty union:

- divisive rather than collaborative relations between administrators and faculty

- union interference in promotion and tenure

- less flexibility in providing merit increases

- less flexibility in recruiting and retaining top faculty

- an effective pay cut as part of you pay now goes to union or fair share dues

- fewer raises - the UIC campus in Chicago has been working without a contract, and thus with out raises, for the entire nearly-two-year existence of the union.  Meanwhile, the UIUC campus has had raises averaging 3-4% annually

- false promises - the union somehow believes it is possibly to not raise tution while giving faculty a raise.  They apparently also believe in unicorns.

Be careful what you wish for.

Lostinspace wrote on February 06, 2014 at 1:02 pm

I have some experience with a unionized faculty at a major university.

"divisive rather than collaborative relations between administrators and faculty"

That depends on the people involved, with or without a union.  Not true in my experience.

"union interference in promotion and tenure"

Never an issue in my experience, except in cases where procedures were violated.  It depends on contract wording.

"less flexibility in providing merit increases"

"less flexibility in recruiting and retaining top faculty"

Not in my experience for either issue. A good contract leaves considerable flexibility.

"an effective pay cut as part of you pay now goes to union or fair share dues"

Well, yes. If you want to buy something, you have to pay for it.

"fewer raises"

Not where I come from.

"false promises - the union somehow believes it is possibly to not raise tution while giving faculty a raise."

Faculty members are usually not that blind.

That said, in my experience the union focused too much on dental plans and not enough on governance ("Those are the rules," I was told).  And it is true that my institution had a long tradition of shared governance: a real faculty senate jealous of faculty rights, and not a rubber stamp; real faculty involvement and not the deadening passivity (resignation? cynicism?) that I witness here.

The folks who are trying to change things deserve credit and a fair hearing.


SouthSider wrote on February 06, 2014 at 1:02 pm

"an effective pay cut as part of you pay now goes to union or fair share dues"

Well, yes. If you want to buy something, you have to pay for it.

Okay, but what if you DON'T want to buy it?

Lostinspace wrote on February 06, 2014 at 2:02 pm

As with anything else, you weigh the advantages and disadvantages, and then you vote.  It is one thing to vote after having understood the issues; it is another to vote for or against prior to the presentation of the issues.

SouthSider wrote on February 06, 2014 at 2:02 pm

Two problems:

There isn't going to be a "vote." State labor law allows for a democratic, open and public election but the local organizers have made it clear they are opting for a card campaign, which is none of those things. Recruiters go to people's offices indiviually and try to sign them up, presenting only one side of the issue.

This is the second problem. I see no evidence that most faculty have been given an opportunity to see both sides of the issue, and aside from one senate debate there has been no mechanism for allowing that. Union organizers have shown no interest in a fair, open public debate. What they want are staged events like the one in this story, where they control the agenda and the perspectives shared.

That's why the FAQ listed above is so important.

Lostinspace wrote on February 06, 2014 at 3:02 pm

Let's wait for the organizers' reaction.  If it is as secretive and manipulative as you say, no one should sign anything but a petition to have open discussion and a vote.  There is enough backroom politics as it is.

SouthSider wrote on February 06, 2014 at 4:02 pm

"Secretive and manipulative" is just exactly what it is.

That's why you should be as concerned about it as many of us are.

Bulldogmojo wrote on February 11, 2014 at 10:02 am

Citizen, I'm curious where you fact checked this...

"Meanwhile, the UIUC campus has had raises averaging 3-4% annually"

CommentPoster wrote on February 06, 2014 at 10:02 am

The language the organizers use is very careful.  A majority of "tenure system and non-tenure system faculty" is not the same as "a majority of tenure system faculty" and "a majority of nontenure system faculty".  The fact that they don't say the latter suggests that their support is concentrated in one or the other group, most likely the nontenure system faculty.

The article also says the meeting took place on Thursday in several places, but it seems to have taken place on Wednesday.

Mike Howie wrote on February 06, 2014 at 11:02 am
Profile Picture

You are correct, the day of the week was wrong. It's been fixed now. Apologies.

Mike Howie

online editor

Sid Saltfork wrote on February 07, 2014 at 12:02 pm

The PBS News Hour had a piece on last night regarding the issue.  It still might be on their website today.  It discussed the misfortune of adjunct professors, and non-tenured academics.  The teaching load falls on their shoulders while the few top tenured professors, and the administrators thrive financially.  Sadly, many of those working for the pitiful wages prefer to stay in teaching due to having a Ph.D., and not seeing life outside of academia.  More, and more; the disparity in money is showing up in academia just as it is outside of academia.  The elite do not want to give up a penny rather than stabilize their profession.  Which group is more dedicated to teaching?

Better behave, or the Union will get you.  Freedom of speech, and respect for others' opinions seem to have disappeared amongst the academics when the evil Union appeared.  If it were not so cold outside, the academics might demonstrate for their groups.  Oh well... they still can send stand-in grad students to do it.