Silence of faculty union advocates is deafening

Silence of faculty union advocates is deafening

By Nick Burbules and Joyce Tolliver

Faculty union advocates on this campus have been virtually silent on the contract signed by tenure-track faculty up at the University of Illinois at Chicago, after months of praising the union movement up there as a model for their organizing here at Urbana-Champaign. This silence is hardly surprising, since a simple comparison between what the union has secured for faculty at UIC, and what has been achieved on this campus without a union, is not very helpful for their case.

First, the UIC contract provides back pay for faculty during the two years that negotiations dragged on: 2.5 percent for 2012-13, and 3.25 percent for 2013-14, with an additional 1 percent for compression and equity raises (total: 6.75 percent over two years). During this same two-year period, faculty on this campus received 4.3 percent and 4.16 percent increases, a total of almost 8.5 percent, paid in full and on time in the normal salary cycle. (In fact, the UIC union used Urbana's higher salaries as the benchmark for their salary demands.)

Salaries for next year have not been set and were not addressed in this contract, so no comparison is possible. Nor have dues levels been settled yet — but everyone should remember that any salary increases need to be offset by dues payments that are deducted directly from people's paychecks. Hence, the net salary increases at UIC are even further behind what faculty, without paying dues, have received here.

Second, promotion bonuses at UIC are set at a threshold of 10 percent of salary. On this campus they are set at $7,000 for promotion to Associate and $10,000 for promotion to Full, in addition to whatever raises faculty receive from their departments. Last year the average promotion bonus for faculty on this campus was over 14 percent.

Third, the UIC contract offers a "one-time, non-recurring reimbursement" of up to $1500 for research or professional development. On the Urbana campus, thanks to the Humanities and Arts Scholar Support program, faculty in those units received $1,000 for such purposes between 2008 and 2013, when the amount was raised to $1500, recurring every year. Many faculty receive more than this in research support from their departments, and all faculty have access to additional support from the Research Board.

Fourth, despite claims by the union that faculty governance needs "strengthening," the contract leaves all statutory and existing governance structures in place: "Neither the University nor the Union intend that any of the terms of this Agreement abridge or diminish the roles of the faculty or the University as established in University Statutes ... The parties to this Agreement recognize and support the role of the Faculty Senate as established by the University of Illinois Statutes." We are encouraged by this recognition that shared governance is an effective and independent mechanism to express the voices and interests of the faculty, fully outside the control of the union.

Fifth, we note that a provision was included in the contract that would allow the union to collect "fair share dues" from faculty who are not members of the union, but only so long as more than half the faculty remain fully dues-paying members. This is a fair and reasonable provision, since the moral justification for collecting fair share dues from everyone rests on the will of a democratic majority having committed themselves to the union.

This is the same provision, however, that was condemned by the union during negotiations as a "Scott Walker proposal" that was "anti-union, plain and simple." Similarly, when we raised questions about possible fair share dues on this campus, the two of us were condemned by CFA members not only as "anti-union," but as "right-to-work" shills in the service of the Koch Brothers. It is somewhat gratifying, therefore, to see that this particular "anti-union" provision was endorsed by 98 percent of the membership of the UIC union.

Finally, the contract outlines a grievance procedure that is no stronger in its protections for tenure-track faculty than the current provisions already in the statutes, with the exception that it puts the final level of review in the hands of an outside arbitrator, not in the faculty or administrators of the campus. We leave it to you to judge whether that is a superior system.

The silence of local faculty union advocates on all these provisions is deafening.

The achievements of faculty and administrators working together on this campus to improve the compensation and working conditions for faculty have been produced without a union, without charging faculty dues, without strikes and strike threats, and without the kind of animosity evidenced by the UIC negotiations.

Nick Burbules and Joyce Tolliver, current members of the UI faculty, are past leaders of the campus academic Senate.