The Crusader Newspaper Group

Faculty and staff at three Illinois universities ready to strike for a fair contract

Campuses include Chicago State, Eastern Illinois, and Governors State Universities

Hundreds of faculty and professional staff at three state universities may be walking the picket lines as early as April 3. The employee unions at Chicago State University (CSU), Eastern Illinois University (EIU), and Governors State University (GSU) have all been bargaining with their respective employers for a combined total of 30 months. All three have encountered an unacceptable lack of progress at the bargaining table as they work to secure fair contracts that will retain outstanding faculty and staff and better serve students.John Miller is the president of University Professionals of Illinois (UPI, IFT Local 4100), the union local whose chapters at the three campuses may be forced to strike: “We’re seeing this trend in higher education where our professionals and faculty are stretched thin. They’re being asked to give more time, take on more work, and offer more support. Yet these institutions choose not to compensate them adequately in return. It’s not a matter of resources, but one of priorities. At GSU, they have the money for 15% bonuses – for the president. At EIU, they can afford to give their president the highest salary on campus to teach only one class next year while proposing higher courseloads for the rest of the faculty. CSU has one of the highest paid university presidents in the state – but the lowest paid faculty and staff. We’re calling on these presidents to instead put our students first by investing in those who teach, advise, assist, and support them every day.”This historic situation demonstrates that university administrations across the state need to reassess their priorities and focus their resources on students – and the people who serve them. All three institutions serve special student populations whose success in college depends on the support system they have.CSU is the state’s only Predominantly Black Institution (PBI) and one of few nationwide that offers four-year degree programs. Colleges and universities that are designated as PBIs have low-income and first-generation students as more than 50% of their student body. But at CSU, adequate support just isn’t there. GSU is a Minority Serving Institution and emerging Hispanic Serving Institution. Students there have increased need for advising assistance, yet GSU advisors are overloaded, some with as many as 500 students. EIU is a rural institution and essential to the vitality of the surrounding community. While it attracts students from rural areas, it’s not making the investments needed in them or the faculty and staff to strengthen the university. The paltry salary proposals offered by administrations at all three campuses stand in sharp comparison to outcomes of the negotiations for the UPI chapter at Northern Illinois University (NIU). NIU administration agreed to increases in the amount of money spent on salaries of 7.5%/4.5%/4%/4% for this year and the next three for tenure-track faculty, and raises of 6%/6%/5% for this year and the next two for non-tenured faculty. Knowing that NIU’s administration stepped up to compensate faculty fairly, UPI members across the rest of the state are wondering why their administrations cannot do the same.“We believe that this refusal to invest in faculty is a direct disinvestment in our students, and our members are committed to reversing this cycle.” said CSU UPI Chapter President Valerie Goss. “This is why we will continue working with the administration to achieve an equitable contract in hopes of avoiding a strike. I am proud of the work that our members do to serve Black students and all underrepresented students in Chicago. But how can we retain the great faculty and instructors we have if they are paid less here than anywhere else? Our students deserve better.”CSU UPI officials filed their Intent to Strike last week, making April 3 the first day they could strike. Union members at Eastern may soon follow. After filing their Intent on March 24 and delivering it in person to EIU President Glassman on Monday, EIU UPI members plan to strike on April 6 if no viable offer is made at the table. “We’ve been bargaining for over a year now. It shouldn’t have to come to this,” said EIU UPI President Jennifer Stringfellow. “No one wants to strike, and we sincerely hope that we aren’t forced to. We feel like we have no choice but to stand up for our students – so that they are supported while they’re here on campus – and for our professions. We cannot ask our members to accept an effective pay cut when they have been overloaded now for years, with no end in sight.”A similar situation is happening at Governors State. GSU UPI members voted to authorize a strike by 190-6 on Friday, and filed their 10-day Intent to Strike on Monday, March 27. The same issues – fair compensation and providing enough support for students despite overwhelming workloads – have not been resolved in negotiations. Members there can strike as early as April 7.“The offers we’ve seen from management are truly disheartening, especially during tough economic times,” said Mike Hart, GSU UPI president. “We’re continuously being asked to do more for less. Higher workloads not only affect us as professionals, but they have a negative impact on the support we can give to our students. We will stand strong for a fair contract so that we can give them the education they deserve.”Time is running out. CSU UPI and GSU UPI will bargain again on March 30, and EIU UPI is back at the table on April 3.

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