Uni High Faculty and University non-tenure track faculty win right to keep bargaining units

By Andrew Nowak

New unions are preparing for bargaining with the University, after their separate entities were upheld by the Fourth District Appellate Court of Illinois.

The decision was filed on Jan. 20, despite University appeals filed in attempt to prevent the fragmentation of faculty representation.

The Uni Faculty Organization, representing faculty at the University Laboratory High School, and Campus Faculty Association Local 6546, representing non-tenure track faculty at the University, were separately certified by the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board in 2014.

The board is in charge of carrying out the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act, which allows for collective bargaining of public employees and their employers. One of the duties of the board is to certify bargaining units.

The University argued that the Uni Faculty Organization should not have been certified by the board, because the union had not presented clear enough evidence that it met the standards.

In order to get certified by the board, a union needs to clearly present that it meets conditions in the board’s laws, including that it must be warranted by “special circumstances and compelling justifications” and “will not cause undue fragmentation of bargaining units,” according to Section 1135.30 of the board’s administrative code.

Faculty from the high school argued that their day-to-day experiences and concerns were completely different from those of university-level, non-tenure track faculty.

The University also contested the Board’s decision on the Campus Faculty Association Local 6546 case because they thought the union should include Uni High School faculty.

The appellate court found no error with the board’s ruling on the Uni Faculty Organization case, and, therefore, no error in the CFA Local 6546 case, because the University’s appeal was conditional on the error of the first case.

Campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said in an email that the University originally hoped the court would find that the two unions were really one unit, but the court upheld that they were two separate unions.

“Our concern is that this opens up the possibility that small, fragmented groups of employees might form bargaining units, instead of creating a single group to represent the entire community of employees with similar responsibilities, terms and conditions of employment,” Kaler said.

Shawn Gilmore, president of CFA Local 6546 since December and English lecturer, said the University can still appeal the case to the Illinois Supreme Court.

“I have been told by our legal team that they might, but that the state supreme court is very reluctant to take up things that have been twice shown to be valid,” Gilmore said.

Kaler did not say whether the University was planning to appeal the decision again.

“We are still considering our options, but we continue to bargain in good faith with both groups,” Kaler said.

Susan Davis, member of the executive committee of the CFA and professor of communication, said the appellate court made the right ruling and hopes the University won’t appeal the decision to the Illinois Supreme Court.

“They just keep losing on these issues,” Davis said in an email. “We hope they stop wasting everyone’s time and the taxpayers’ money.”

Janet Morford, vice president of the Uni Faculty Organization and teaching associate at University Laboratory High School, wrote in an email, a response on behalf of the Uni Faculty Organization.

She said the group was pleased the courts ruled in their favor and wants the Board of Trustees to accept the decision, so bargaining can continue.

Morford said the union has met with the University since its certification to work toward a collective bargaining agreement, but the University has “rejected out of hand” previous proposals, because the University was still in the process of appealing the bargaining unit’s right to exist.

The next collective bargaining session is set for the middle of February and the Uni Faculty Organization hopes to make progress, Morford said.

Morford explained that having a union available for University Laboratory High School faculty was useful for protecting funding, a portion of which comes from the University. She said they are concerned the University could reduce funding without the “full involvement of staff, students and parents.”

Morford said the University needs to attract and keep good teachers by being competitive in terms of salaries and benefits packages.

“Our main objective in forming a union was thus to preserve the unique educational environment that Uni teachers, students and their families value,” Morford said. “And that clearly enhances the overall mission of the University.”

Andrew can be reached at [email protected]