Unionized UI faculty in minority

By Andy Kwalwaser

In the Feb. 7 edition of The Daily Illini in the article “Unionized UI faculty in minority,” reported that University faculty have had bargaining rights since 2003. The faculty has had those rights since as early as the 1970s. Also, the article referred to Vice President of the Campus Faculty Association Alfred Kagan as Alan Kagan. The Daily Illini regrets the errors.

The following is the story as it originally ran on Feb. 7

Legislators in Wisconsin are seeking to give faculty members at public universities the ability to bargain collectively with university administration, a practice currently not condoned at Wisconsin public universities.

However, finding support to form Wisconsin faculty unions may be difficult if perceptions are anything like those at the University of Illinois.

Since 2003, faculty at all three University campuses have had the right to form unions and bargain collectively with administration, but have had little success finding a majority of the faculty to support it.

Faculty unionization is a complex decision because it balances traditional faculty rights against contemporary needs, said Joe Berry, visiting labor education specialist at the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations.

“Like any other employer, universities prefer to not have to deal with a union and deal with an employee individually,” Berry said. “In that situation, the employer is stronger and the employee is weaker.”

Unions have been slow to develop in Champaign-Urbana, said Jon Nadler, field service director for the Illinois Federation of Teachers, a union representing faculty at seven other universities around the state.

“There hasn’t been any interest,” Nadler said. “We can only unionize people who are interested.”

Nadler said issues such as wages, working hours and health care draw faculty to unions. But, the University’s faculty members do not always have common concerns.

John Murphy, executive vice president of the University Professionals of Illinois, an affiliate organization of the federation, said working conditions are better at the University than at other public universities.

“The faculty at the University of Illinois has not suffered enough to be clamoring for representation as a collective union,” Murphy said.

The Campus Faculty Association, a 200-member union at the University, has raised issues pertaining to work conditions and salary with the Faculty Senate, said Alan Kagan, vice president of the association.

However, school administration is not legally obligated to bargain collectively with the group because it does not represent at least half of the University’s faculty.

“We’re supposed to have fair bargaining power, but many times it doesn’t work out that way,” Kagan said. “Unions are necessary in all work places and the University of Illinois is no different.”

Faculty unionization laws vary from state to state. In Illinois, every “community of interest” at a university can unionize separately.

Graduate students and nontenured academic professionals are represented by their own unions.

“Of the more progressive states that have well-developed union laws, Illinois is in the top two to three,” Nadler said.

Faculties traditionally benefit from tenure and individual salary negotiations, said Berry, a member of Campus Faculty Association.

Those benefits can make unions appear unnecessary, but collective bargaining becomes more important if those rights are limited, he added.

“The collective and individual rights of faculty to influence the course of the university has been eroded,” Berry said in reference to national trends. “Most people teaching do not have a vote in traditional faculty matters.”

Some faculty members find unionization unappealing, said Stefan Gleason, vice president of National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, a nonprofit legal service that represents employees who are compelled to join unions. “Many academic professionals do not view themselves as analogous to faculty workers and don’t want to have a middleman representing them to their employer.”

Unions representing more than half of a university’s faculty can bargain collectively for all faculty whether or not they are in the union, Gleason said,

“You have a one-size-fits-all agreement that’s imposed on all people in the workplace,” Gleason said.

Kagan said faculty members at the University should keep an open mind about collective bargaining.

“At this university, people feel they don’t need a union because they have faculty status and don’t know what they’re missing,” he said. “That’s the chief problem.”