Union members of the University of Illinois at Chicago United Faculty (UICUF) voted this week to authorize a strike. Union officials, however, say they will continue contract negotiations with the university's administration through early January, with the help of a federal mediator, in an effort to avoid a walkout.
"We will only take strike action once every other avenue of influence has been exhausted and the bargaining team believes there is no other way to make members’ views clear," the union wrote on its website before the strike authorization vote, which occurred Monday through Thursday of this week.
About 79 percent of the union's 800 members participated in the vote this week, with over 95 percent saying they backed the option to strike, if necessary, for a fair contract, union leaders said.
The UIC faculty union, which was legally recognized to represent all full-time tenured and non-tenured UIC faculty in 2012, has been in contract negotiations with university officials for more than a year. Both sides have attended about 50 bargaining sessions. A few weeks ago, both the union and the administration called for federal mediation to help resolve their remaining differences over the four-year contract.
“This [vote] demonstrates to our members, and to the university administration, that our faculty fully understand what is at stake during this 15 month-long struggle for a contract,” John Shuler, a communications group leader for UICUF, said in a statement.
UIC spokesman Bill Burton recently told Progress Illinois that "many tentative agreements have been reached" with the union thus far. Burton told the Chicago Tribune Thursday that, "The mediation has barely begun, and we're optimistic that it will produce a positive outcome."
The union argues that little progress has been made at the bargaining table with university officials beyond non-monetary and hortatory matters. Some of the unresolved issues that the union is pushing for involve multi-year contracts, a "real system of promotion" and a minimum salary of at least $45,000 for full-time, non tenure-track faculty, up from their current $30,000 annual wage. Additionally, the union wants a 3.5 percent pay bump for all its faculty members.
The union is also seeking:
Faculty Control of Governance and Curriculum through the Senate, including expanding its role in budgetary decisions.
A commitment to improve students’ learning conditions in classrooms, labs, and access to support.
A compensation proposal that acknowledges how, in the past, faculty took furloughs and salary freezes in the past, and moves forward with a system of compensation and promotion that is based on merit, responds to equity disparities, and resolves long-standing problems with salary compression.
A few things would have to occur before a possible strike happens, including a union membership meeting and a vote by its Representative Assembly. A 10-day notice, as required by state law, would also have to be provided prior to a strike. If a walkout does happen, it would likely take place at some point during the spring semester, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
During a UICUF rally last month about the contract, the union's President Joe Persky said talks at the bargaining table with university officials had slowed down, and UICUF is prepared to take action, including a strike, if that means speeding up the process.
“When money was tight, UIC faculty sacrificed for students and the university. Now, with nearly a billion dollars in surplus funds, the university president refuses to use even a small fraction of those funds for faculty compensation," Persky stressed. "His position is not only unwise, it's unfair."