April 25, 2012

Court Rejects Faculty Union

By Scott Jaschik
Inside Higher Ed, www.insidehighered.com

ALMOST A year ago, faculty members at UIC filed papers to unionize. The drive at the University was seen as a major victory for academic labor, which has struggled in recent years to organize at research universities. And at a time when the treatment of those off the tenure track is an increasingly important issue to faculty leaders, the new union was to have combined tenure-track and adjunct faculty members.

SINCE THEN, the union has been engaged in a legal fight with the University, which argued that Illinois law does not allow joint units for tenure-track and non-tenure track faculty members. Along the way, the union won most of the skirmishes, but that ended on March 23.

AN ILLINOIS appeals court ruled that the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB) exceeded its authority when it certified the new faculty union -- and so effectively stripped the union of its authority. The IELRB ruling was based on interpretations of a narrow provision of State law. The ruling found that the law's direct language was ambiguous but that there was evidence of what legislators intended with the law, and that this evidence backed the University's interpretation that a joint bargaining unit was illegal.

THE UNIVERSITY has said in the past that it would not object to separate unions for tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty members. And a University spokesman confirmed that position after the appeals court ruling came down.

ONE OF the organizers of the union criticized the decision, but said that the union was determined -- one way or another -- to move ahead to bargaining with the administration. "The administration decided to take this issue to a conservative appellate court in Springfield, when of course the proper place to appeal would have been Chicago, where the union activity has taken place," said Lennard J. Davis, an English professor at UIC, via e-mail. “They got the decision they wanted, which was a minor victory in which the conservative court ruled, as conservative courts and venues have ruled throughout the U.S. in these times -- making a decision on technicalities. Because this is a technical decision, we think the University has a Pyrrhic victory. The decision can and may be appealed by us to the Supreme Court of Illinois."

BUT, HE added: "At the same time our central and focused interest is to begin collective bargaining as soon as possible and within the framework of Illinois law. To that end, we are willing to take whatever steps required to bring such negotiations about. We believe that we have the ability to do that sooner rather than later, and whether we are two bargaining units of tenured and non-tenured faculty in the same union or one unit within the same union, we hope to be sitting down with the administration to begin collective bargaining within a month or two."

ON APRIL 20, in response to the recent Illinois Appellate Court decision, faculty filed a new set of membership cards at the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, with a greater number of signed cards compared to last year.

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