June 26, 2011

Faculty Attempt Unionization;
Faculty Union Would Have Different Role than Senate,
Would Not Be Unusual

By Monica M. Walk

FACULTY UNION organizers, under the name UIC United Faculty, filed authorization cards with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB) on April 29. A card signed by a faculty member demonstrates his or her commitment to creating a union, and no additional voting is required. The IELRB checks and processes the required simple majority and validity of the signatures, and within months the campus should have its first faculty union, representing approximately 1,500 faculty members.

SINCE THE inception of the UIC campus, faculty have been represented by the Senate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Each campus in the University of Illinois system has a faculty Senate, with roots in the University’s statutes.

THE UIC Senate is primarily an advisory group, focused on academic programs, such as reviewing courses, admissions policies, requirements for degrees, and the academic calendar. It has no involvement with salary negotiation or any employment issues.

“ALONG WITH the provost, faculty through the Senate have some control of academic programs,” said Dr. Philip Patston, Chair of the Executive Committee of the UIC Senate and Associate Professor in the College of Dentistry. “There is a difference in what we [faculty Senators] are empowered to do and what a union would do. The Senate doesn’t have decision power. It is a consulting body.”

DESPITE THIS limitation, Dr. Patston noted the Senate “has been the only voice through which faculty could raise issues of concern. We point people in the right direction.”

FACULTY HAVE come to the Senate with questions about working conditions, computers, grievances, and more.

“THERE IS disenfranchisement and anger on campus,” Dr. Patston acknowledged, citing recent faculty concern over campus funding, working conditions, attacks on pensions, salaries lower than peers at comparable schools, and pay lost though furloughs.

“CLEARLY, UIC faculty are activated in a way they’ve never been,” said Dr. Patston, whose dental school is not included in the current union organizing (the Colleges of Dentistry, Medicine, and Pharmacy faculty are excluded from the current effort because of a 2003 State law). “It is not a selfish agenda. People work hard and love what UIC is about, its urban mission. Can we sustain a top ranking when work conditions are substandard?”

FACULTY UNIONS are more common than many inside and outside of academia may realize.

IN FACT, UIC is the most recent, but not the only Illinois higher education facility in which faculty have organized. Chicago State University, Eastern Illinois University, Governors State University, Northeastern Illinois University, Northern Illinois University, Southern Illinois University, and Western Illinois University all have faculty unions--in essence, all public Illinois universities funded by the State, with the exception of the three University of Illinois campuses.

ACROSS THE country, faculty unions exist at Rutgers University, Stony Brook University-State University of New York (SUNY), University of Buffalo-SUNY, University of Florida, Temple University, Wayne State University, University of Cincinnati, Binghamton University-SUNY, University of Alaska, University of Vermont, University of New Hampshire, University of Connecticut, University of Rhode Island, University of Delaware, Florida State University, California State University System, and UMass/Amherst.

THE UIC faculty campus group is partnered with a union trifecta of American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) and American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

ACCORDING to the article “Why a faculty union is not like other unions,” written by Dr. Darold T. Barnum, UIC Professor of Management, “The only real difference between unionized and nonunionized faculty it that, with a legal faculty union, the administration by law must listen to faculty views and truly share governance of the university. University faculty unions are aggressively democratic in their decision-making. So, their negotiation proposals reflect what a majority of their membership wants.”

ACCORDING TO Dr. Barnum’s article, faculty union contracts tend to include:

  • Fair grievance procedures mandating due process for nontenure-track, tenure-track and tenured members alike.
  • Provisions to ensure the university’s core mission is honored (such as class sizes, quality and number of students, faculty qualifications, appropriate staff, cost-cutting measures, layoffs, measures for student retention).
  • Provisions for merit pay and fair, across-the-board salary increases (including acknowledgement of market value).
  • Protection against unilateral changes unrelated to the financial health and mission of the campus.

BARNUM’S ARTICLE also notes that faculty unions tend to be politically active and work to retain and increase government funding, rather than assume the administration is entirely responsible for revenue growth.

TO READ the article in full, go to http://uicunitedfaculty.org/articles/article%20why%20is%20a%20faculty%20union%20not%20like%20others.pdf.

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