UPDATED: Nontenure faculty union strike may last through semester's end
Updated 11:15 p.m.
CHAMPAIGN — Nontenure-track faculty members at the University of Illinois planned to walk out of classes again Thursday — and possibly for the rest of the semester — after contract talks ended without a settlement Wednesday.
Shawn Gilmore, president of Nontenure Faculty Coalition Local 6546, said union members voted “overwhelmingly” to authorize a five-day strike at a meeting Wednesday evening.
Negotiations ended after the university presented a “last, underwhelming proposal” and then walked out, Gilmore said about 9 p.m.
The strike would cover the remaining class days for the semester, through May 4. Finals begin May 6.
Picketing was scheduled for 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the UI’s English Building, headquarters for the union’s two-day strike last week.
“This strike can be suspended at any time if the administration decides to engage in meaningful negotiations with us that will lead to a settled contract,” Gilmore said in an email to union members Wednesday night.
The two sides have agreed to meet again Friday morning and all day Tuesday, according to a mass email sent to the campus Wednesday night by interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson.
Wilson noted that the two sides met for more than 10 hours Wednesday, with interim Provost Edward Feser present for most of the discussions.
“We made progress on several issues,” she said, noting that the university had substantially revised its initial proposals.
“We regret the disruption another work stoppage will cause our students but we remain committed to arriving at a contract that is in the best interest of our university,” she said.
The two sides started meeting at 8:30 a.m. for a third bargaining session with a federal mediator, and the 31st overall since the union formed in 2014.
After a contentious start to the talks, university negotiators put forward a comprehensive contract proposal in the early afternoon. But Gilmore said it didn’t go far enough on several key issues, including multiyear contracts.
At the behest of mediator Conrad Bolling, the union agreed to work with that package to try to make changes, and both sides agreed Wednesday afternoon to stay “as long as possible” to hammer out an agreement. But Gilmore predicted the likelihood of a settlement was “fairly small” based on the administration’s proposals.
The administration’s negotiating team was “unwilling to move on the issues that previously brought us to authorize a 2-day strike,” Gilmore said in his email to union members.
While the university made concessions on compensation for extra-contractual work and management rights, negotiators refused to incorporate “meaningful language” on multiyear contracts, notifications of appointments and compensation, he said. Their proposal “buried” the issue of multiyear contracts in a clause under appointments, giving departments the option to offer them to employees but not requiring them, he said.
Feser began the session with a lengthy statement on shared governance, explaining why administrators couldn’t bargain certain issues in a labor contract, union officials said. The two sides then caucused after administrators asked for time to discuss possible contract proposals.
The union, which tweeted about the negotiations throughout the morning, then posted a tweet urging its members to call the provost’s office and demand that he “stop stalling,” providing Feser’s email address and office phone number.
“Feser came to talk at us, not to bargain,” the tweet said.
Later, the union tweeted that administrators presented two proposals that “don’t address our needs: academic freedom and appt/reappt. Feser walked out, unhappy about calls ...” The tweet goes on to list Feser’s phone number.
Administrators then asked the union to tell members not to contact Feser “so that he has the time to bargain with us,” according to the union posts.
The union represents about 500 teaching, research and clinical faculty members who are not on the tenure track. About 400 hold teaching positions and teach about 40 percent of the undergraduate classes on campus. Most have year-to-year appointments with nine-month contracts.
The union wants multiyear contracts for members who have been working five years or longer, support for professional development and regularized appointment and reappointment procedures.
Administrators support multiyear contracts but want them to be based on merit and performance and under the control of departments, which can’t automatically lock in to long-term contracts because of state budget uncertainties. The UI has been operating without state funding since July 1.
The union continued its two-day “work-in” Wednesday, which had started the day before at the Henry Administration Building with faculty members setting up chairs along the hallways and outside to do their work. They moved to the Swanlund Administration Building mid-day Wednesday after union officials delivered letters of support for the faculty to the office of interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson.
During last week’s two-day strike, dozens of faculty members canceled classes and walked picket lines in front of the UI’s English Building to protest a lack of progress in the negotiations, which began in October 2014.
Wilson said she expected that most classes would go on as scheduled during the strike, as they were last week, but “we will try to minimize any disruptions.” She advised students that some departments might provide a substitute instructor for classes, combine course sections or cancel a class. Some classes might also be move to other buildings.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that union members were seeking multiyear contracts for employees who have worked at the UI two years or longer.