A few hundred University of Illinois at Chicago United Faculty (UICUF) members and their supporters rallied on campus Thursday afternoon, calling on the institution's administration to settle their contract with the union.
Back in 2012, UICUF was legally recognized to represent all full-time tenured and non-tenured UIC faculty. The union has been negotiating with the university over a contract for 15 months, and faculty members say a resolution is not in sight.
"We all realize now, over the last month or so, things have slowed down at the bargaining table," said UICUF President Joe Persky. "When money was tight, when we sacrificed for the university, when we gave up to help our students, the campus thanked us. But now when ... it's time to pay us back, they have stopped negotiating."
Overall, university officials have been in about 50 sessions with the union's two bargaining units, for tenure faculty and non-tenure faculty, said UIC spokesman Bill Burton. So far, negotiations "have gone well" and "many tentative agreements have been reached," Burton said. The remaining sticking points, however, center around salaries and benefits, he added. But both sides on Wednesday called for federal mediation to resolve their remaining differences surrounding the contract, according to Burton.
He stressed that the university "values its faculty and seeks a speedy settlement," which is "in the best interest of students."
After UICUF members rallied and marched around the campus Thursday, they delivered two letters to the university's chancellor and provost, asking them to come to the bargaining table now that the two sides are seeking help from a mediator.
The union says it wants a contract now, and needs it to include increased wages for faculty members.
Persky noted that the university has nearly a billion dollars in expendable reserves, but University of Illinois President Bob Easter "refuses to use even a small fraction of those funds for faculty compensation."
The few hundred faculty members staged the rally in an effort to remind Easter that "it’s time to raise lecturers' wages above those of an assistant manager at McDonald’s," Persky said.
Union members also pointed out that UIC Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares has a salary of $422,458, while more than 70 full-time faculty members reportedly earn less than $30,000. Union members maintain that faculty have suffered "successive years of wage freezes, decreases in benefits and [the] uncertainty of underfunded pensions," according to a fact sheet they handed out to those on campus.
But what really pushed 10-year UIC professor Natasha Barnes' buttons was the recent news that UIC spent some $1 million on a home for Allen-Meares. The house was meant to be used for university-related events, however only a few functions been held there over the past four years, the Chicago Tribune recently reported.
"I have students who don’t have money for books," said Barnes, who teaches English and African-American studies. "They can't get appointments to get into the writing center, so they can't get help with their essays."
In an interview with Progress Illinois, Barnes said she is not that interested in a salary increase of her own, even though she understands "that we need better wages for everyone."
"The point is what is going on from the administration," she explained. "The kinds of decisions they make by fiat. The ways in which they multiple themselves like E. coli bacteria, and the fact that they have no concern for what’s going on. They're not on the front-lines teaching."
Persky added that it's time to stop "administration bloat." The university's administration has reportedly expanded by 10 percent since 2007, Persky said. Meanwhile, "tenure-track faculty were taking a cut."
"These are hard times," he stressed, which prompted union members to chant, "Chop from the top!"
Here's more from the rally, Persky and Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery, who also delivered a fiery speech to the crowd:
Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) President Karen Lewis briefly attended the rally to stand in solidarity with the university workers.
"They deserve a fair contract, and they should get it," Lewis told Progress Illinois. "I don’t think a lot of people know how little money people that do higher education actually make. I thought about it at one point, [but] I couldn’t afford to leave k-12. This is really tough work, and it requires them to continue to do research ... and yet they're not appropriately compensated. You can actually be a professor at a school and live below the poverty line. That is unacceptable. They need a contract, and they need it now."
Martin Macias, who's in his fourth year at UIC studying urban and public affairs, said he was disheartened upon learning that a number of his school's professors make only about $30,000.
"I'm proud to be an engaged student and share the space with everyone here, but it shames me to know that our administration is not bargaining in good faith with our faculty," he told the large crowd.
Also joining the rally was Scott Pratt, a philosophy professor at the University of Oregon, where its faculty union, United Academics of the University of Oregon, recently signed its very first collective bargaining agreement. Among other victories, all faculty members with the union won salary increases as part of the new contract, he noted.
Pratt encouraged UICUF members to keep up their fight, and also added some blunt words for the administration.
"It is unbelievable, from my perspective, that the university that stands on the grounds of Hull House treats its students and faculty with such appalling injustice and lack of vision," Pratt said.