PI Original Ellyn Fortino Tuesday February 18th, 2014, 6:01pm

UIC Faculty Kick Off Two-Day Strike For 'Fair, Equitable' Contract

Members of the faculty union at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) hit the picket lines Tuesday as part of a two-day strike for a "fair and equitable" contract. Progress Illinois was there for the union's morning rally. 

Members of the faculty union at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) hit the picket lines Tuesday as part of a two-day strike for a "fair and equitable" contract.

The walkout ,which goes through Wednesday, is the first strike to ever take place among faculty members at the public university.

At a rally at the UIC quad Tuesday morning, hundreds of UIC United Faculty (UICUF) union members and their supporters chanted, "No contract, no peace", while some carried signs that read "Stand for a better UIC" and "Put the provost on probation." The strikers later split up throughout the afternoon to picket outside various buildings on campus.

The faculty union, which has about 1,200 total members, was legally recognized to represent all full-time tenured and non-tenured UIC faculty in 2012.

UICUF, a member of the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT), has yet to reach a deal with the administration for its first contract, despite 18 months of negotiations and more than 60 bargaining sessions attended by both sides.

The administration and UICUF met this past weekend in an attempt to avoid the two-day walkout, but the negotiations were unfruitful, according to union representatives. Union and administration officials plan to come back to the bargaining table this Friday.

UICUF's President Joe Persky, who has taught economics at the university for 39 years, said the union is striking not only to win the attention of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, but also of the city, state and nation. 

"The heart of UIC is its faculty and its students, but the trustees shortchange them both," Persky said. "They take more of our students' tuition money, and even with hundreds of millions in profits each year and more than a billion dollars in reserves, they refuse to pay professors what they're worth."

The push to organize faculty at research universities across the country has been gaining momentum over recent years. Locally, there are efforts to form a faculty union at the University of Illinois' flagship campus in Urbana-Champaign. And in related news, the faculty union at the University of Oregon signed its very first collective bargaining agreement last year. 

One of the last faculty strikes at a major U.S. research university was at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale in 2011.

IFT President Dan Montgomery as well as members SEIU* Local 73 and other organizations stood in solidarity with the UIC strikers Tuesday.

"Your brother and sisters around this state, from Galena and Gurnee all the way to Granite City, are with you, are looking at you, because what you are doing here today is historic," Montgomery told the faculty members. "You can wonder [about] what you're doing and if it really is going to make a difference. But let me tell you now, you have already made a tremendous difference in your professional lives and the life of this university and the lives of your students."

Persky said UIC students have been supportive of the faculty's decision to strike.

"They want their faculty reasonably well-paid," Persky said. "We don't take the biggest share of their tuition dollars. A lecturer is only taking 10 cents on the dollar that they're paying for that course." 

The union and administration have been working with a federal mediator to help resolve their remaining differences over the contract since November.

Some of the unresolved issues that the union is pushing for involve multi-year contracts, "faculty control of governance and curriculum" and a minimum salary of at least $45,000 for full-time, non tenure-track faculty, up from their current $30,000 annual wage. For tenured faculty, the union wants a base yearly salary of $60,000.

Administration officials have reportedly offered a base salary of $36,000 for full-time, non tenure-track faculty by 2016.  

Persky said 70 UIC lecturers currently make $30,000 a year before taxes, which he called "outrageous."

John Casey, a full-time UIC lecturer since 2012 who teachers first-year writing, is one of those 70 faculty members.

"If you're in my position and you're working just this one job, you find yourself with about $100 a month left to pay the bills," Casey said. "It's hard to focus on what you enjoy doing."

Casey, who first starting teaching at UIC as a graduate student in 2001, said he has remained at the university because he cares about the students. 

"That is why I want to see us earning a fair wage," he said. "I want to see us earning a wage that allows us to focus again on the teaching that we do in the classroom ... The university will show us in that paycheck we make that what we do is important."

The union's proposal includes a merit salary bump this year of 4.5 percent. The administration has reportedly put a 3.25 percent merit salary increase on the table.

Persky said the administration's contract offer contains "blank spaces that they will fill in later" regarding wage adjustments for the next two years.

"We can't sign a contract unless we know what we're going to get," he stressed.

In a written statement, UIC spokesman Bill Burton stressed that UICUF's proposed 4.5 percent pay increase does not reflect other components of the unions proposal, including "payment of employee out-of-pocket insurance costs, increases to minimum salaries and special allocations to colleges to address salary-compression."

All together, the union's proposals would increase total costs by an estimated 23 percent for the tenure system group and 27 percent for the non-tenure system group over a four-year period, Burton said.

According to the union, UIC professors on average have not seen a pay increase in two years. 

UIC mathematics professor Marc Culler said a de facto university policy allows some faculty members to receive a raise. The university sometimes matches salary offers that faculty members can get from some other research institution, he explained.

"Some people like that game, but many people don't play that game, and if you don't, you pay for it," he said.

Union members also raised concerns about the number of administrators at UIC. They said the administration increased by 10 percent over the past five years while tenured faculty positions decreased by 1 percent.

"Basically we're looking at a fairly incompetent, bloated administration, which is not treating the faculty fairly," Culler stressed.

In addition to Friday, the two sides are set to meet for two other mediation dates on February 24 and March 3.

*The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this website.


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