FAQ: Possible Strike by UIS United Faculty

Important Notes:

  • UIS values the work and contributions of all faculty.
  • UIS is facing unprecedented budget challenges with incomplete state budgets in two consecutive fiscal years (FY 16/17) and deep uncertainty regarding FY18 state support.
  • UIS must make decisions based on the best interests of students and their ability to continue making progress toward their degrees.

 

1. What is the UIS United Faculty?
The UIS United Faculty is a new collective bargaining unit – part of the University Professionals of Illinois Local 4100, which is an affiliate of the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT). The bargaining unit includes 163 tenured/tenure-track faculty.

2. How long has the campus been bargaining with the UIS United Faculty?
The UIS United Faculty was certified as the exclusive bargaining representative for this group of faculty members in January 2015. Negotiations began in October 2015. To date, there have been 29 bargaining sessions including 16 sessions with a federal mediator. Four additional negotiation sessions are currently scheduled for April 28, May 5, May 19 and May 26.

3. Why hasn’t a contract been worked out?
Especially for a first contract with a new bargaining unit, negotiations can be lengthy and complicated. The University’s goal is a fair and appropriate contract, taking into account current budget uncertainties and the significant cuts in state funding to public universities over the last several years.

While a final agreement has not been reached, negotiators have reached tentative agreements on several issues such as facilities and equipment, meetings with administration, personnel files and health and safety. We have also had discussions on topics such as the grievance procedure and matters concerning the faculty personnel policy.

4. Is it legal for the UIS United Faculty to strike?
Yes. The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act permits organized employees represented by a union to strike when certain conditions are met.

5. Who can legally participate in a strike?
Tenure/tenure track faculty who hold positions included in the bargaining unit represented by UIS United Faculty can legally participate in a strike. All other UIS employees are expected to report to work as scheduled. Adjuncts and other non-UIS United Faculty instructors are not included in the UIS United Faculty Bargaining unit, and the University expects that these adjuncts and instructors will honor their employment contracts and continue to work. UIS employees covered under other existing collective bargaining agreements have contractual provisions preventing them from participating in a sympathy strike. The University’s normal procedures governing approved absences remain in effect.

6. If a represented bargaining unit (tenured/tenure-track) faculty member wonders about the possibility of a strike, the following may be of help:

  • You have the legal right to participate in a strike that is called by your union.
  • You have the legal right to decide not to participate in a strike.
  • The University will honor whatever choice you make.
  • State law prohibits paying a public sector employee who does not work. If you choose to participate in a strike, your pay will be adjusted.

7. Is there an option that could avert a strike?
Yes. Both the University and union leaders have publicly indicated a desire to avoid a strike. We can reach a fair and appropriate contract if the union continues to participate in bargaining and work with the campus as we work to reach our first contract. The campus has actively and in good faith been bargaining with the UIS United Faculty since fall of 2015.

The University continues to negotiate with the UIS United Faculty on ways we can come to agreement on a contract. The University and UIS United Faculty have reached tentative agreement on several key items, including personnel file management, facilities and equipment, meetings with administration, and health and safety.

8. If UIS United Faculty strike, will classes be held?
We hope everyone responsible for classroom teaching will respect their instructional obligations and not impair students’ progress in their current courses. The University will monitor the situation closely and assess options for dealing with any disruption that might occur, with the goal of minimizing any harm a work stoppage could cause.

9. How long will a strike last?
How long a strike lasts will be determined by the UIS United Faculty. From the University’s perspective a strike is not warranted. The University has continued to present proposals that represent a fair and appropriate contract, especially given our current financial standing.

10. If the strike is prolonged, what will happen to students’ grades?
The University expects that teaching and learning continue. The University’s goal is to ensure that students are treated fairly and the objectives of their courses are fulfilled.

11. If faculty who are members of the union withhold grades, what happens?
If that becomes an issue, the University will determine what approach would be in the best interest of their students and move forward accordingly.

12. What are the possible consequences for faculty who engage in a work stoppage?
State law prohibits paying a public sector employee who does not work. Those members of the bargaining unit who choose to engage in a work stoppage forfeit pay for the period in which they do not perform their job duties. The University will ensure that it fulfills its legal duty to pay those who are working.

13. Can the University withhold pay from faculty who participate in a strike? Is withholding pay retaliation?
Several Illinois laws recognize the right of public employees represented by labor organizations to strike, and the University will, of course, comply with all applicable requirements and principles regarding the rights of striking employees. Continuing to receive pay despite withholding services is not one of those rights. To do so would violate laws and policies regarding appropriate use of state resources. The University cannot pay striking employees who are not working.

14. If faculty are on strike and not being paid, does that disrupt their health benefits?
The University is not required to provide benefits during a strike. A strike may impact benefits, depending upon the date and/or duration of a strike.

15. If the faculty union goes on strike, should students still go to class?
Yes. Students have been instructed to attend class as usual should a strike occur. They are expected to wait a minimum of 15 minutes for their instructor. They have also been informed they should direct any questions about assignments and related matters to their instructor or the department.

16. What can picketers lawfully do?
Picketing on public property is usually lawful so long as the picketing is peaceful, does not create a disturbance, and does not block entrances and exits to campus buildings. Picketers must not block a door, passageway, driveway, crosswalk or other entrance or exit. Union members or picketers have a right to talk to people going into or out of campus buildings; but students, faculty and staff have a right to enter university buildings and classrooms without being interrupted, intimidated, coerced or threatened.

Verbal or physical intimidation, threats and coercion are never permitted. Campus police will be monitoring any strike activity. Anyone who experiences threats or acts of violence should call Campus Police at (217) 206-6690.

17. Where can a student go for answers if they have questions?
Faculty are expected to alert students in advance about class assignments and arrangements. The office staff in the department or college offering a specific course also will be available to respond to questions or problems that might arise in the event of a work stoppage. Staff in the Dean of Students office also will be available at (217) 206-7714 to respond to questions or concerns of students or their parents.

18. Who can I contact for more information or if I have questions?
Derek Schnapp, Director of Public Relations, is the official spokesperson for the University (217) 206-6716.  Employees may contact the Senior Director of Human Resources, Melissa Mlynski at (217) 206-7148.

19. Is the administration trying to eliminate tenure through the current negotiations?
No. There is absolutely no intent on the part of the University of Illinois administration or the UIS administration to undermine or change the current robust tenure and promotion process.

However, the issue in negotiations that appears to be causing confusion is the Faculty Personnel Policy (FPP) that includes long-standing appointment, reappointment, tenure and promotion procedures. The union’s position to date during negotiations has been that the FPP must be part of the union contract. The University’s position is that the FPP, while not included in the union contract, will continue to stand within the Policies and Procedures of the University and within the current structure of shared governance.

There are several reasons the University cannot include the FPP in the union contract. The University of Illinois has been clear in the negotiation of all faculty union contracts across the system (the UIS contract is the 5th such contract negotiated in recent years) that appointment, reappointment, tenure and promotion decisions are managed via policies determined through the process of shared governance involving multiple levels of faculty and administrative review. As you know, tenure and promotion recommendations from UIS to the Board are achieved through careful deliberations wherein the candidate’s file is thoroughly vetted at the department, college and campus levels as well as by the Dean, Provost and Chancellor. The vast majority of tenure candidates at UIS during the 22 years we have been part of the UI have been successful in their tenure applications.

Including the tenure and promotion process in a union contract would open such decisions to grievance procedures involving outside judgments by an arbitrator who may have little or no knowledge of the university and whose participation could potentially undermine the Board of Trustees’ ultimate responsibility for confirming such decisions. The UI believes these decisions belong squarely in the hands of the faculty and administration of the University and that the application and refinement of tenure and promotion matters should continue in the existing process via the channels of shared governance.

The University of Illinois statutes enshrine the University’s belief in the importance of tenure and promotion and the processes on each campus that support these very important decisions. Nothing in our current Faculty Personnel Policy is under threat in the current negotiations. Leaving the tenure and promotion process to stand independently outside of the union contract protects the existing process of shared governance and does not take away anything in those processes that faculty currently have access to, value and appreciate.