About 300 visiting academic employees have filed a labor complaint saying the University of Illinois unfairly denied them raises awarded to other staff.
The university granted pay raises averaging 3 percent to most employees this fall, including about 3,000 academic professionals, but withheld raises from the smaller group of visiting academic professionals, according to their union.
The Association of Academic Professionals, which represents the 300 workers, filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board on Nov. 10, according to Alan Bilansky, a UI employee and the union's chief negotiator.
The union is in negotiations with the university for a new contract, but both sides had agreed the old two-year contract, which expired Aug. 15, would apply until a new agreement is reached, he said. Language to that effect is included in the old contract.
And under terms of the old agreement, workers are entitled to the same raises given other academic professionals, the union argues. A provision states: "During the term of this agreement, wage increases for bargaining unit employees shall be determined by the campus general salary program for non-represented academic professionals as established by the Provost's office."
But the university has a different interpretation, saying there was "no specific percentage pay increase guaranteed for all university employees."
"The VAP collective bargaining contract recently expired, and while negotiations are continuing, a new contract has not yet been agreed upon," UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler said in an email statement. "The previous contract has no pay schedule for annual step increases, and pay rates differ among employees in different departments, so pay adjustments are decided at the department level and may vary."
Visiting academic professionals work on year-to-year contracts, sometimes for as much as eight years. A much larger group of academic professionals have permanent contracts with more job security. Both work for a variety of units as teachers, researchers, counselors, information technology specialists or costume stitchers at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.
The minimum full-time starting salary for a visiting academic professional is $27,700.
In some units, Bilansky said, visiting academic professionals were told this fall they'd be getting a raise, only to learn a day or two later that it was being rescinded. The union's secretary, Betsy Peterson, who works at the UI Counseling Center, said some employees in other units got written letters promising a raise that was later withdrawn.
"We actually thought it was a mistake, that some managers were just not giving visiting academic professionals raises," said Bilansky, an information technology training specialist. "So we contacted human resources, and they came back and said, 'No, this is our policy. No raises until the contract is signed.'"
The two sides have been negotiating once a week since July, he said.
Bilansky said the agreement that expired in August was a "concessionary contract," coming in the midst of a financial emergency at the UI that prompted furloughs and major budget cuts.
"Now, theoretically, the crisis is over. Everybody on campus is getting 3 percent, and it certainly feels like a slap in the face to be withholding the raises," he said.
Kaler said the university continues to negotiate with the union "in good faith."
The academic professionals' union signed its first three-year contract with the UI in 2006.