When a floor becomes a ceiling

When a floor becomes a ceiling

By Nick Burbules and Joyce Tolliver

Faculty union advocates on this campus want to represent themselves as the tireless advocates for faculty salary improvement.

But let's look at the facts.

For the past three years, our campus — the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign — has exceeded the universitywide minimum for salary increases. This came as a result of close collaboration between senate leaders and administrators within the shared-governance framework, not as a result of collective bargaining.

These increases surpassed what the UI Chicago faculty union negotiated, retroactively, after two years of acrimonious fighting, a strike — and a threatened, even bigger, second strike.

In fact, the UIC union used Urbana's higher increases as the benchmark for what they tried to get — unsuccessfully.

If you subtract union dues, the net salary increase for the Chicago faculty comes off even worse.

This year our campus increment was the same as was negotiated by the union at UIC: a 2.5 percent base increase, and an additional 1 percent for "compression, merit, equity, and retention" — CMER.

The Campus Faculty Association praised this increase, somehow thinking that we should give the UIC union credit for our increase on this campus. On its Facebook page, the CFA wrote, "This 1% on top of the campus salary program is double the size of last year's CMER pool, and strangely enough, it is exactly what the faculty union at Chicago negotiated in their recent contract. So please give a shout out to our unionized colleagues in Chicago for helping us get better raises!"

But, in fact, making our salary increments the same as those specified in UIC's contract hurts our faculty, because our salary increases have actually been better than UIC's over the past several years. CFA leaders know, for example, that last year's 0.5 percent CMER was supplemented by an additional 0.9 percent increase provided on this campus through local reallocations. But don't expect any credit from them for those efforts.

Apparently it is more important for the CFA to support their union colleagues at UIC than to advocate strongly for faculty interests here.

Meanwhile, the compensation review committee created by last summer's senate task force, which the CFA opposed, has issued a carefully detailed and data-driven analysis of where our campus salaries need to be enhanced (http://www.senate.illinois.edu/sc_crcfinal.pdf).

The compensation committee showed that on average our campus salaries are almost 3 percent behind those of our peers (and prime competitors) for faculty, and in some units as much as 10 percent behind. They call for a concerted plan to eliminate this gap, emphasizing especially those campus units that are furthest behind.

The chancellor and provost have publicly embraced the recommendations of the compensation report and are committed to addressing these problems.

But there is no way that the gaps between the salaries on our campus and on our peer campuses can be remedied if we follow the CFA's apparent notion that we ought to match what we do on this campus to equal the increases provided by the other UI campuses.

In effect, what was negotiated by the union at UIC as a salary floor has become a salary ceiling for all the campuses. This may be represented by the CFA as a victory for solidarity, but it is not good for our faculty.

Meanwhile, the senate's compensation review committee also strongly endorsed the development of a supplementary retirement program for faculty, a topic on which the CFA has been virtually silent.

On our campus, it is the senate and its committees who are pushing to do better on faculty salaries and retirement options, and are committed to continuing to do so: the compensation review committee report recommends formalizing the ad hoc committee, and producing an annual report on how well we are doing to address salary concerns and doing an in-depth analysis of the competitiveness of our total compensation package every three years.

The perpetual promise that some day, somehow, faculty unionization will remedy campus salary deficiencies needs to be matched against the actual progress that shared governance — faculty working constructively with the administration — has achieved for our campus.

And, unlike a union, the senate does not tax the faculty at the level of 1 percent or more of their salary every year.

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

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