URBANA — Lecturers, instructors and other similar employees at the University of Illinois have filed a formal petition with the state to unionize.
A group of nontenure-track faculty on Wednesday submitted union authorization cards with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, the agency which oversees collective bargaining issues between unions and educational employers like schools and universities.
Supporters have called it a historic moment for the campus, where a faculty unionization effort has been building in recent years, drawing some opposition along the way.
Union organizers said they collected authorization cards from more than a majority of the nontenure-track faculty on campus, which they say number just over 400. The card drive began shortly after the conclusion of spring break. Nontenure-track faculty work in a variety of departments across campus and hold a variety of titles. Unlike their colleagues in the tenure stream, they often work on year-to-year contracts and do not have the protections of tenure.
"This is the first step in building a much-needed continuity for a group of faculty who fluctuate constantly," said UI English lecturer Kay Emmert. "With a union, we will be able to work with administration to create solutions so we as a group have a stronger progression, long term, for our teaching and professional development goals."
University spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the campus has not received any notice from the board that a certification petition has been filed and she could not respond until it does.
The reasons behind unionizing vary, but generally people would like to see more multiyear contracts offered, promotional tracks established and salaries raised for those at the bottom tier for pay, said Brian Dolinar, a visiting lecturer at the UI.
"Much has been said about the provost communication (a recent internal campus document that addresses issues specific to nontenure-track faculty, such as multiyear contracts). A union will put these in writing and will give us further sense of security," Dolinar said.
Their petition to organize follows the recent ratification of the first contract for UIC United Faculty with the university. The Chicago campus faculty union, certified in 2012, represents both tenure-stream and nontenure-track faculty. UIC United Faculty approved the agreements after a nearly two-year negotiating process.
On the Chicago campus, the UIC United Faculty is one union with two bargaining units and two different contracts. The same approach is being taken on the Urbana-Champaign campus.
The petition filed this week is only for nontenure-track faculty, though.
Campus Faculty Association President Harriet Murav said the group is still working on the tenure-stream organizing campaign and she believes the filing of the nontenure-track petition will be a "tremendous boost" to organizing tenure-track and tenured professors in Urbana.
"I think it's fantastic for everyone on campus. ... It shows that it's possible to do it at a big research university. To me, the message is yes we can, and we will," Murav said.
"We're hoping the NTTs will set an example, inspire and motivate more tenure-track faculty to take an interest in the union campaign," Dolinar added.
In about a week, the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board will send a copy of the group's petition to the university, which then will provide names and titles for those the group is seeking to represent, said John Brosnan, special counsel to the board.
The university also will send what are called "signature exemplars" to the agency, which will allow the agency to then check the cards to make sure there are no forgeries or other issues.
About three weeks into the process, the university will file its position, outlining any problems or issues it may have with the petition. In the meantime, the agency will set a hearing date, probably in mid-June. That is in case any issues the UI raises have to be litigated, Brosnan said.
The union must file 50 percent plus 1 (card) of the people in the proposed bargaining unit. For example, if there are 800 people in a bargaining unit, the union would need to submit 401 cards, he said.
Emmert declined to say how many they filed with the agency, but that the number exceeded their goal.
Kristina Riedel, director of Sub-Saharan African languages program and a lecturer at the UI, drove to Springfield to deliver the cards Wednesday.
"It was an exciting moment. We're happy we got to this point and we're looking forward to the next step," Riedel said.