New faculty union beneficial, say memebers

The new UIS union for tenure-track faculty is confident that the organization will bring a host of benefits to students and faculty on campus.

Since announcing the unionization last week, the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT), as well as members of the union, have been explaining potential benefits of the union. In the IFT’s press release regarding the formation of the union, the union is described as a “major victory” for faculty on campus.

The university has also made a statement in the wake of the news, which reads “We respect the fact that faculty members have a right to decide whether or not to be represented by a labor union. The union will have the power to act and speak for faculty in required group-level negotiations on wages, hours, and conditions of work. UIS has contracts with a number of labor unions, and the campus would engage in bargaining as we do now with all of the other labor unions we deal with.”

The decision to unionize was obviously not taken lightly by the faculty, as only 71 out of 138 eligible faculty signed the union cards that indicated interest. In regards to why some faculty chose not to sign, IFT Field Service Director Deneen Pajeau explained that joining a union is a deeply personal decision. Pajeau mentioned that some faculty may have philosophical reasons for not wishing to unionize, or simply that some may not feel this step was necessary

Donna Bussell, a professor of English and linguistics, believes the addition of a faculty union will allow the faculty to help be a part of the campus decision-making process, which is ultimately good for both students and faculty.

“Right now, our voice is pretty much advisory. So we can say what our opinion is, through the senate or those other means in conversations, and those have been very good. But now we think it’s time that we have an actually legally binding voice where we can officially enter into the conversation collectively,” said Bussell.

Regarding issues that the union would be looking at taking on, Bussell stated, “Making sure there’s a grievance process, making sure we have a voice on salary or other kinds of benefits, making sure we have a voice about other issues like course caps and things like that.”

Bussell also stated that having a union allows the faculty to think “very carefully” about controversial issues such as budget cuts, tuition increases and class size increases.

According to professor of anthropology Lynn Fisher, salary is “always an issue.” Fisher cited an administrative report that compares UIS to a list of “peer institutions” based on a series of criteria; UIS ranks 11th out of 14 comparable schools in faculty salary.

While Fisher could not forecast exactly how much the union hopes to improve faculty salaries, she did mention that one of the union’s goals was to make UIS a better place to teach.

Bussell also indicated that the formation of a union would potentially help UIS grow in the future. “One thing we can do an even better job than we have been doing, perhaps, is attracting and recruiting faculty because having a union means having a much more stable workforce.”

Fisher argues that having a stable and tenured faculty is vital to advancing the campus. Fisher pointed out that the tenured professors are the ones who are designing the school’s curriculum and guiding UIS academics.

The faculty union is still in its infancy; Bussell equated the process to starting a new student organization. The group must internally draft a set of bylaws and decide what exactly their goals are before pursuing negotiations with the administration.

Fisher stated that she expects such negotiations to be underway by summer of this year.

The Journal tried to reach faculty members that are against the union, but we were unable to reach or obtain comments from these individuals.