FAQ: Potential Unionization of Faculty

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Frequently Asked  Questions Concerning Potential Unionization of Faculty at UIS

September 2014

1. What is the legal process in Illinois for certification of a union?

A: Illinois law (115 ILCS 5/7) allows a union to be certified when a labor union representative demonstrates a showing of majority interest by employees in the proposed bargaining unit. The law states that submission by the union of signed and dated cards by the employees authorizing payroll deduction for union dues constitutes evidence of employees’ choice for union representation. In other words, when faculty members sign and date cards indicating support for a specified union, such cards may be submitted later by the union to the labor board to be counted in favor of union representation. If a majority of faculty members sign such cards, a union could be certified for tenure system and/or non-tenure system faculty.

2. Are departments required to allow unions to solicit faculty in University facilities or speak at departmental meetings?

A: No. Union officials are not allowed to disrupt or interfere with faculty performing their normal work activities. This does not preclude making space available for meetings involving union officials in the same manner as any other requests for meeting rooms for non-departmental activities or purposes.

3. What can faculty members do if they are visited by union representatives in the workplace or at home?

A: Visits by a labor union representative to an employee’s home or calls to an employee’s personal phone number may be handled in the same manner as any other solicitation. Employees have no obligation to speak with labor union organizers in the workplace, and may address them in the same manner as they respond to any solicitation.  Union organizers do not have the right to insist on meeting with employees at their workplace or to disrupt regular University operations. Accordingly, employees may politely inform union representatives that they are not interested in talking with them and may ask them to leave.  If union representatives will not leave after being asked, if they attempt to access restricted university areas without approval, or if they persist in harassing or intimidating an employee, the employee should report the matter to his or her supervisor, the UIS Human Resources office and/or campus police at (217) 206-6690 (non-emergency number).  Employees do not need to sign anything in order for a union representative to leave.

4. Do faculty members have the right to vote in an election before a union is certified?

A: Not necessarily. Illinois law allows for certification of a union through either an election or by a “card check” procedure whereby a union demonstrates to the Labor Board that it has a “majority interest” of employees in the proposed bargaining unit. Such majority interest may be shown by the union producing dues deduction authorization forms or similar documents signed by a majority of employees in the proposed bargaining unit.

5. Can a faculty member sign a card without advocating for unionization?

A: No. A signed card can be used by a union to demonstrate that a majority of faculty wish to be represented by the union and has binding legal effect. In approaching faculty members, it is inaccurate for a union representative or supporter to characterize the signing of such cards as informational only or as non-binding. Furthermore, if a majority of the relevant employees sign cards, a union will be certified.

6. What does it mean if a faculty member signs a union authorization card?

A: Signing an authorization card means that you are casting a vote to be represented by the union.

7. What if a faculty member misunderstood or wishes to revoke a union authorization card he/she previously signed?

A: If you wish to revoke a previously signed union authorization card, you should notify the union in writing that you are revoking the card and requiring that the original card be returned to you.  Sending your letter via certified mail may help to establish that the letter has been received by the union.  In addition to contacting the union you may also wish to contact and share a copy of your letter with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB).  The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board’s contact information is: 160 North LaSalle Street Suite N-400, Chicago, IL 60601 (312.793.3170).

8. What are potential effects of unionization on decision-making regarding faculty matters?

A: If a union is certified, Illinois law requires the University to bargain in good faith with the union representative on wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment. Thus, merit or equity pay increases would likely be mandatory subjects of bargaining and would be negotiated between the University and the union. Also, there is a legal principle that representatives of the employer cannot have direct dealings with employees concerning mandatory subjects of bargaining. The employer cannot unilaterally implement changes to the status quo of mandatory subjects, such as giving individual faculty differentiated pay increases, unless an established policy expressly authorizes pay adjustments (for example, for retention purposes). The law further provides that collective bargaining agreements must contain a grievance resolution procedure providing for binding arbitration of disputes.

9. Would chairs of departments be included in a faculty bargaining unit?

A: Generally not. The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act excludes supervisory, managerial and confidential employees from the definition of educational employees who are eligible to collectively bargain. It will be the position of the University that chairs and heads would be excluded from any faculty bargaining unit because they exercise supervisory, managerial and confidential job responsibilities.

10. It has been asserted that unionizing will strengthen the faculty role in university governance. Is this true?

A: No. Matters of governance are not a mandatory subject of bargaining. The subjects of collective bargaining are wages, hours, and conditions of employment.

11. How would a faculty union affect faculty governance?

A: Unions are entitled to bargain wages, hours, and working conditions. Thus, the role of academic departments in determining merit salary increases as well as teaching loads could be altered in a collective bargaining situation.

Unions typically are not, however, involved in broader issues related to educational policy, such as admissions requirements, degree requirements and confirmation, curricular changes, and academic program changes. These matters continue to be part of the legislative functions of the Academic Senate, as stipulated by the University Statutes.

12. Can a union guarantee or even accurately predict salary increases after a union is formed?

A: No. Salary adjustments would be a subject of bargaining, requiring mutual agreement between union and University negotiators before any adjustments could be implemented.

13. What expenses would a faculty member incur by having a union representative?

A: Illinois law permits negotiation of “fair share” clauses, which require employees to pay the equivalent of union dues for the cost of services rendered by the union. (115 ILCS 5/11) Union dues would likely be set at a percentage of gross salary.

14. How might having a faculty union affect our efforts to promote excellence?

A: Certification of a faculty union could undermine or at least impair the authority of department heads and deans to reward outstanding faculty performance, by requiring permission of a union before awarding meritorious pay adjustments. The union might also block pay adjustments for professional development, course releases, stipends, etc.

15. Are faculty at other UI campuses in a union?

A: The tenure track faculty at Urbana-Champaign are not. Both tenure track and non-tenure track faculty are represented at Chicago.

16. Will collective bargaining impact current roles and relationships between faculty and department chairs and other administrators?

A: Yes. The University administration has a duty to deal exclusively with a union concerning decisions pertaining to pay, hours, and working conditions. In other words, academic administrators would no longer be able to have direct interactions with individual faculty on these subjects.  Under collective bargaining, negotiations on these subjects take place between the Union representative and members of the University’s Labor Relations Staff from the Office of Human Resources.

17. Would collective bargaining help protect faculty’s current pension rights?

A: Not necessarily. Pension benefits under the State Universities Retirement System are actually set by State Statute and like other matters in collective bargaining come with no guarantee of increased benefits or protections just because a union may represent employees.

18. What is a “strike”?

A: Under Illinois law, faculty who are in a bargaining unit at a public university have the right to strike. Strikes, whereby employees withhold services (and lose pay), are a union’s ultimate method of exerting pressure on management to accept its demands.

19. If a union calls for a strike, must all bargaining unit members participate?

A: No, but strikes and other union concerted activities may disrupt instruction and other university activities, and participants could be subject to loss of pay.

20. How final is a decision to have a union represent the faculty?

A: Once the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board declares a union to be the exclusive bargaining representative of the faculty, the union is authorized to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement for the employees in the bargaining unit. Once a contract is agreed upon, decertification is barred during the life of the contract. It is extremely rare for a union to be decertified once the first collective bargaining agreement has been negotiated.

  • Mark Owens
    Assistant Director Labor and Employee Relations
    (217) 206-7096
  • Melissa Mlynski
    Senior Director of Human Resources
    (217) 206-7148