Non-tenure-track faculty union leaders to meet Monday; 2-day UI strike could follow

Non-tenure-track faculty union leaders to meet Monday; 2-day UI strike could follow

URBANA — Hundreds of non-tenure-track faculty trying to settle their first contract with the University of Illinois could walk off the job this week, though classes will go on as scheduled Monday.

Several union members said the tentative plan is to call a two-day strike Tuesday and Wednesday, but union leaders would not confirm it. 

Shawn Gilmore, president of the Nontenure Track Faculty Coalition Local 6546, said the union will announce specific dates and the nature of the job actions after the strike committee meets Monday afternoon. 

Gilmore said faculty members will not walk out of classes Monday.

“We want to make sure everybody has a chance to prepare. Everyone has students, and this is the first time they’ve been through such a thing,” Gilmore said Sunday afternoon.

Union members authorized what Gilmore called “limited work stoppages” during a strike vote in early April, but the union had to wait at least 10 days before taking action. Officials said possibilities included a one- to-three-day strike, but they would not call for more serious measures — such as an extended walkout or withholding grades — without returning to the membership.

Union said they would inform administrators of their plans Monday morning.

“We want them to understand what we have in mind for a work action, in fact, to demonstrate what it looks like when nontenured faculty don’t do their labor, because it’s such a big part of the actual educational mission of the university,” Gilmore said.

The union represents almost 500 lecturers, researchers and other faculty members who are not part of the tenure system, though not all have joined the union. Most have one-year contracts — some after teaching 15 or 20 years — and usually earn less than their tenured colleagues. 

The union is asking for two-year-contracts after five years of service, and three-year contracts after 10 years, as well as regular evaluations, opportunities for promotions and a role in shared governance. The provost’s office has procedures in place for multi-year contracts, but the union wants them built into a contract. The faculty role in shared governance is outlined in university statutes and related policies.

Gilmore wasn’t sure how many classes would be affected by a walkout.

He said some union members would continue working through the job action, including international faculty worried about potential visa problems and researchers who work in labs that can’t close or who need to supervise students working with hazardous chemicals.

But many teaching faculty will participate, he said, “to show what it looks like when we remove our labor.”

Campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said about 400 people in the bargaining unit are teaching faculty. She said some have called administrators asking whether they are required to strike.

Interim Provost Edward Feser wrote to non-tenure-track faculty on Friday to clarify the rules about strikes and employee pay.

While the university recognizes employees’ right to strike “under certain circumstances,” Feser said in the email, “it is equally important to note that individual employees also have the right to choose not to strike and to continue working.”

Those who report to work during a strike will be paid, but those who strike will not, he said. 

Feser also noted that the two sides still have four negotiation sessions scheduled with a federal mediator, including one on April 27. The two sides have been negotiating the initial contract since October 2014, much of it during an unprecedented state budget crisis.

“We have reached tentative agreements on several key items and believe that further progress can be made at the bargaining table,” Feser said. “We are disappointed that it appears the NTFC isn’t willing to give that process a chance.”

“We value the contributions of specialized faculty members. We have taken major steps over the past few years to demonstrate our support, and we are committed to doing more to address your concerns and ensure that you can achieve your career goals,” Feser said. “We remain optimistic that if we work together we can find reach a fair and equitable contract.”

Gilmore said the specifics of any salary adjustments must be negotiated. The union also has a strike fund to help members who lose money, he said. 

Other than Feser’s email, Gilmore said the union has “heard nothing about bargaining or negotiations of any sort from the administration” since the strike authorization vote was announced on April 7.

In a message to union members, Gilmore said the union remains committed to the mediation process and is willing to bargain “at any time,” even before April 27. 

Less than three weeks of classes remain in the spring semester. The last day of classes is May 4 and finals begin May 6. 

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