UIS faculty authorizes strike

Faculty pay, development and support for research are contested issues

Kari Bedford Photography
Kristi Barnwell, union president and associate professor of history at University of Illinois Springfield
This week’s “overwhelming” vote by unionized faculty members at University of Illinois Springfield to authorize a potential strike should send a message to university officials, the union’s vice president says.

“In essence, the faculty are tired and fed up with the administration,” Steve Schnebly, UIS professor of criminology and criminal justice, told Illinois Times. “This is our opportunity to let them know they truly need to step up in the bargaining room.”

It remains to be seen whether the strike-authorization vote April 19-20 helps the 134-member bargaining unit at scheduled negotiations sessions April 22, 25 and 27.

The vote will allow the UIS United Faculty-Local 4100 of the Illinois Federation of Teachers to file an intent-to-strike notice April 21 with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, Schnebly said.

That means the local’s bargaining committee could call for a strike to begin as soon as May 2, but that doesn’t mean a strike will happen, he said.

The two sides have been bargaining for more than a year, and the previous five-year contract – the first contract for the UIS faculty union – expired in August 2021. The first contract was reached after a four-day strike in May 2017. The contract, covering tenured and tenure-track faculty, was retroactive to August 2016.

“We don’t want it to come to a strike, but after a year of bargaining, we’ve seen little progress on critical issues in negotiations,” union president Kristi Barnwell, associate professor of history, said in a news release.

“It’s past time for UIS administration to prove that they prioritize our students and value the work of our faculty by getting a fair deal done,” she said.

UIS Interim Chancellor Karen Whitney said in a statement that university officials were disappointed by the strike authorization vote.

But Whitney said: “Holding a strike-authorization vote is not uncommon in the negotiation process. … The university will continue to negotiate in good faith.”

Whitney added: “We know that our students, faculty and staff are counting on us to work tirelessly to bring this to a successful conclusion as soon as possible. … We greatly value and appreciate our faculty, and we are committed to the academic success of our students. I am hopeful that we will be able to reach a fair, sustainable and fiscally responsible agreement – at the bargaining table – with which both parties can be satisfied.”

According to Schnebly, items of contention in bargaining include faculty pay, financial support for research and funding for “faculty development.”

Schnebly said the university spends too much on administrative functions and not enough on instruction. More investment in instruction would make the campus more attractive to potential students, he said.

The union’s news release says some UIS faculty earn as much as 20% less than faculty members at other Illinois universities. “Most of our tenure-track faculty are paid far below state averages, and state averages include non-tenure-track faculty as well as tenure-track,” Barnwell told Illinois Times.

“The average salary of faculty in our bargaining unit is $74,375, but that is heavily skewed by the relatively small number of faculty receiving extremely high salaries,” she said.

The median salary for all faculty members in the bargaining unit is $68,350, and all members of the unit have either master’s or doctorate degrees, Barnwell said.

UIS faculty members haven’t received a cost-of-living raise since 2020 “despite skyrocketing inflation and health care costs,” the union’s release says. “At the same time, the university has continually increased administrative positions, resulting in a bloated management-to-faculty ratio of one manager to every two faculty.”

Faculty members last received a pay raise of 1% in September 2020, Barnwell said. They received 1% or 2% annual raises in previous years of the contract, she said.

Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer for Illinois Times. He can be reached at dolsen@illinoistimes.com or 217-679-7810.

About The Author

Dean Olsen

Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer for Illinois Times. He can be reached at:
dolsen@illinoistimes.com or 217-679-7810.

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