UIC faculty unionize over working conditions
August 5, 2011
UIC faculty members at the Illinois Labor Board filing requesting recognition of their union. Dr. Donald Barnum is seated at center.

By Monica M. Walk

On the heels of neighboring Midwestern states passing laws eviscerating public sector unions, faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) are banding together in an effort to unionize.

Faculty union organizers, under the name UIC United Faculty, filed authorization cards with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB) recently. 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.

UIC United Faculty purposefully excludes faculty from the Colleges of Dentistry, Medicine, and Pharmacy, which under Illinois law must have bargaining units separate from other faculty, and combines tenured and tenure-track faculty with non-tenured faculty who have a 51% or greater faculty appointment.

Through the law firm of Clark Baird Smith, LLP, the university in May filed a motion with the IELRB to dismiss the faculty representation petition, but the IELRB rejected the motion, paving the way for faculty unionization to continue. The university then filed exceptions to the union representing both tenured and tenure-track and non-tenure track faculty. The IELRB will review the university’s filing. The university administration’s views are on the website www.uic.edu/depts/oaa/facunionmessages.html.

Faculty explain union position

Darold T. Barnum, UIC professor of management and of information and decision sciences and a UIC United Faculty committee member, elaborated on his own interest in including the growing number of non-tenured faculty in the union, many of whom are hired on a year-by-year or semester-by-semester basis.

“In Illinois, [non-tenured faculty] can be fired by management for any reason at any time,” Barnum asserted, noting university administrators “don’t need an excuse.

Non-tenured faculty in the system are extremely vulnerable. They have no academic freedom and have to be wary about everything they say.

“I talked with 50 to 60 nontenured faculty during the course of the [union] campaign, and all but two were terrified of being fired for no reason,” he said. “The union will make it so they can only be fired for just cause, for good reasons—like not performing their jobs—and they would have a fair hearing before being disciplined or fired or not rehired.”

Before filing the motion to dismiss, university administrators had sent campus emails outlining concerns about unionizing including promotion of excellence, department heads’ ability to deal directly with faculty on employment issues and salary, dues costs, and collective bargaining issues.

UIC United Faculty rebutted these concerns on the group’s website, www.uicunitedfaculty.org. The union website also provides links to position papers, definitions, and FAQs covering costs, benefits, job security, retirement, and faculty governance.

Working on the side of management for more than 40 years, Barnum has trained hundreds of public sector managers in union bargaining.

“I was never against unions,” he said, “but this is the first time I am on the union side. UIC has performed at a much lower level than it is capable of.”

Different than Senate

Since the UIC campus’s inception, faculty have been represented by the Senate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. The Senate has no involvement with salary negotiation or employment issues, however, as it focuses primarily on academic issues.

Philip Patston, PhD, chair of the UIC Senate executive committee and associate professor in the College ofDentistry, said, “There is a difference in what we [university senators] are empowered to do and what a union would do. The Senate doesn’t have decision power. It is a consulting body.”

Faculty have come to the Senate with questions about working conditions, computers, grievances, and many other issues, Patston said. “There is disenfranchisement and anger on campus,” Patston acknowledged, citing recent faculty concern over campus funding, working conditions, attacks on pensions, salaries lower than those of peers at comparable schools, and pay lost though furloughs.

“Clearly, UIC faculty are activated in a way they’ve never been,” said Patston, whose dental school is not included in the current union organizing. “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 abound

UIC is the most recent Illinois higher education institution that has seen an attempt to organize a faculty union. Chicago State University, Eastern Illinois University, Governors State University, University of Illinois at Chicago faculty unionize over working conditions

UIC faculty members at the Illinois Labor Board filing requesting recognition of their union. Dr. Donald Barnum is seated at center. 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.

The UIC faculty unionizing group is working with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT), and American Association of University Professors (AAUP).

Barnum in an article entitled “Why a faculty union is not like other unions” wrote, “The only real difference between unionized and non-unionized 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.”

Barnum said in the article that faculty union contracts tend to include fair grievance procedures mandating due process for non tenure-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-cuttingmeasures, layoffs, and measures for student retention; provisions for merit pay and fair, across-the-board salary increases (including acknowledgement of market value); and protection against unilateral changes unrelated to the financial health and mission of the campus.

Barnum’s article also noted 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://tinyurl.com/BarnumUIC.