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Earlier this week, members of the faculty union at the University of Illinois at Chicago voted solidly to authorize a strike if one should become "necessary." The union, UIC United Faculty, says 79 percent of union members voted, and the vote was 95 percent in favor of the authorization.
The union is demanding, among other things, a minimum $45,000 salary for full-time, non-tenure-track faculty.
Today the UIC administration responded with a letter to the faculty, denying union claims that the university has amassed a billion dollars in surplus funds or that it's trying to weaken faculty governance.
The letter, from provost Lon Kaufman, also warns that it's important, "per the federal mediator, for both sides to refrain from using social media to discuss issues being presented and discussed in mediation."
Here's the provost's letter:
Dear Faculty Members,
I write to update you on the status of the collective bargaining negotiations between the university and the faculty union.
After 17 months of negotiations and reaching agreements on a range of significant items, last month the union and the university requested the aid of a federal mediator to expedite bargaining over the remaining items. The union and the university agreed to meet on all of the dates available to the mediator through mid-January. To help reach agreement on the remaining items, the Chancellor and I will continue to read the union's proposals and will remain in immediate contact with the university bargaining teams during the mediation process.
It is important for the university and the union to continue to bargain in good faith and, per the federal mediator, for both sides to refrain from using social media to discuss issues being presented and discussed in mediation. The university is committed to negotiating a fair and reasonable settlement with the two faculty bargaining units, including monetary terms that are equitable and competitive.
In the past month, the union held a demonstration outside of UH and a Teach-in in Jane Addams Hull House. There have been articles in many of the local newspapers. All such activities are within their rights.
However two misconceptions should be addressed. Public statements have been made suggesting the university holds a large surplus of funds. The majority of these dollars are committed to specific projects as a normal matter of course, just as any checking account can appear to be flush before outstanding checks hit. These committed funds include researchers' federal grant dollars not yet expended, Student Information Technology fees that can be spent only on the Library or Academic Computing costs as determined by a student-run committee, and monies that yield the interest supporting named chairs. UIC has a relatively small reserve of available cash that allows us to meet payroll as necessary, carry out some special projects, provide bridge funding, and the like.
There has also been an assertion that the university is trying to change the historic systems of faculty governance. This is false. The university has stated clearly throughout the negotiations that it is interested in preserving — not dismantling — the shared governance system.
This week the union held a vote among its membership that would authorize the union to initiate the process resulting in a work stoppage. Only faculty who belong to the union, not everyone in the bargaining unit, were allowed to vote. As expected the union members supported their union leaders' call for strike authorization. Strikes or any withholding of services are permitted by the Illinois collective bargaining laws only after mediation has been exhausted.
Should there be a strike, the university does have an obligation to our students and other constituents to continue normal operations. It should also be emphasized that no faculty member is required to strike or stop work, even if urged by the union. Every faculty member has the right to continue work.
Frankly, both sides need to focus on resolving the contracts. Please be certain that the UIC administration has heard the proposals by the union and will respond with sincere and meaningful proposals as we move through the mediation phase.
As much as anyone, the Chancellor and I look forward to reaching a mutually agreeable conclusion to our negotiations, which should bring positive changes to campus. Right now, at least in these negotiations, we are on two different sides. My hope is that through the negotiations themselves and the contract I look forward to them producing will put us where we belong, on the same "side," working together to increase the success of our students, contribute to our fields of scholarly inquiry, and increase the quality of life for those in our community.
Professor of Biological Sciences
Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost