UIS faculty could strike as soon as May 2

"Little progress to report" in negotiations, union president says

click to enlarge Kristi Barnwell, union president and associate professor of history at University of Illinois Springfield. - PHOTO BY KARI BEDFORD PHOTOGRAPHY
Photo by Kari Bedford Photography
Kristi Barnwell, union president and associate professor of history at University of Illinois Springfield.

An "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."

The strike-authorization vote April 19-20 came before the 134-member bargaining unit held negotiations sessions with university officials April 22, 25 and 27.

The vote allowed 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. The union wouldn't provide the specific vote total.

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, Schnebly said.

Local President Kristi Barnwell told Illinois Times after the April 25 session that there was "little progress to report" and a strike hasn't been scheduled.

Interim UIS Chancellor Karen Whitney wrote in an emailed update on negotiations to UIS students and employees April 25 that the university "has responded on all outstanding items and is awaiting responses from the union, including a response on the compensation component of the proposal sent April 21."

Barnwell said the administration has responded to the union on a variety of issues "by rejecting ... reasonable proposals."

University officials are willing to meet with the union for negotiations the weekend of April 30 and May 1, if necessary, Whitney said.

To meet the union's request for information about the university's use of federal COVID-19 relief funds, internal auditors for the university joined the negotiation session April 25 to answer questions from the union, she said.

The auditors told the union that certain university funds can't be used for faculty salaries and other benefits, Barnwell said. "We're doing research on whether what they said is true," she 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," Barnwell, an 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.

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

But she 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 said 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 said.

"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," the release said.

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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