UI deal with Visiting Academic Professionals union ends year without contract

URBANA — The Visiting Academic Professionals union has reached a tentative labor agreement with the University of Illinois after working a full year without a contract.

The union had formally rejected what the university called its final offer in June, and the UI subsequently terminated its collective-bargaining agreement with the union, saying no raises were expected for those workers this academic year.

But the two sides met with a federal mediator Thursday afternoon and agreed to a four-year contract, said the union's chief negotiator, Alan Bilansky.

The agreement provides a 3 percent raise for 2011-12, retroactive to Aug. 16, 2011, and a 2.5 percent raise for the 2012-13 academic year, which started Thursday, Bilansky said. Those are the same amounts granted to other academic professionals under the general campus salary program, he said.

No guaranteed raises are provided for the remaining two years of the agreement, but the contract allows managers to grant merit pay with the campus salary program as a guideline, Bilansky said. The union had hoped to get both guaranteed raises and the merit pay option, he said.

"We finally got the university to agree to one of them," he said.

He also said the contract has provisions to help visiting APs get a more permanent job and other benefits.

The university had earlier offered a 3 percent raise for the academic year that just concluded but no guaranteed raises or merit pay option the remaining three years, Bilansky said. For outlying years, the university had said visiting APs would receive the same raises provided through the campus salary program but no more, he said.

"Obviously, there may or may not be a campus wage program, so it was not much of a guarantee. We wanted some kind of minimum," roughly 2 percent, Bilansky said.

With the new merit language, nothing in the contract prevents managers from granting higher raises, he said.

The two sides have been bargaining since July 2011. The union, which formed in 2005, represents 300 employees on campus who work on year-to-year appointments, including researchers, instructors, counselors, information technology specialists and more.

As part of the new deal, the union also agreed to withdraw an unfair labor practice complaint against the university over retroactive pay, Bilansky said. "We've gone three years straight without a raise. The fact that we're getting this, and don't have to wait until the ULP winds through the court, that's a good thing," Bilansky said.

The union will urge its members to ratify the contract through a mail-in vote over the next 30 days, he said. The UI Board of Trustees will then have to approve the agreement, he said.

UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler said campus negotiators were "thrilled" to have the talks completed, but declined to comment on specific details until the contract is ratified by union members.

"It's always good when we can come to an agreement with valued employees," she said.

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