URBANA — Visiting academic professionals at the University of Illinois, who have worked without a contract since August, have formally rejected the UI's last contract offer.
Union members were asked to vote by mail on the four-year agreement, which offered a 3 percent raise the first year but no guaranteed raises the remaining years, according to union spokesman and chief negotiator Alan Bilansky. UI negotiators have said any future raises would be tied to the general campus salary program, he said.
The two sides have been bargaining since July. UI officials say they've made their final offer to the union, which represents 301 employees on campus who work on year-to-year appointments.
A handful of members voted on the proposal, rejecting it 11-3. The workers are transient, and many are newer UI employees scattered across campus, Alan Bilansky said.
Campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the negotiating team has been notified of the union vote.
"We've given our last, best, final offer," she said Tuesday. "The next step is really in the union's hands.
"If they have a new proposal, we'd certainly listen to it," she said. "We hope that they'll keep a dialogue going."
Visiting academic professionals include instructors, researchers, counselors, information technology specialists and more. They unionized in 2005, and their contract expired Aug. 15, 2011.
The UI's final offer was presented to union negotiators on March 30 in a meeting that included a federal mediator. Negotiators rejected it.
The offer included a 3 percent increase retroactive to each employee's individual appointment renewal date in the 2011-12 academic year. Bilansky said those are raises the workers should have gotten last summer, when most UI employees were granted 3 percent average raises.
The union last year filed a complaint with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board about that issue.
Bilansky said the UI now has two choices: declare the negotiations at impasse and impose the last offer, granting last year's 3 percent raises (and giving the union freedom to strike); or return to the table to "bargain in good faith."
"We have told them many times we would love to meet and get back to bargaining. We're not very far apart," he said. "They can't have it both ways."
In April, in an email to visiting academic professionals, a UI administrator had described the parties as having reached an impasse. Elyne Cole, associate provost for human resources, warned employees that if the union did not accept the last offer, "no action will be taken related to pay increases for VAP-represented employees."
One sticking point is that the university is asking the union to withdraw the unfair-labor-practice complaint, Bilansky said.
The union also wants to include merit pay as an option for managers, Bilansky said.
In a recent survey taken along with the union vote, members said they were not willing to do without merit pay or minimum raises in the later years of the contract, he said. Visiting academics have no built-in salary "steps," he said.
Bilansky said the union agreed to abide by the UI's general salary program in its last contract two years ago, at the height of the state's financial crisis, when the UI slashed its budget and imposed furlough days.