University spent over $60,000 to challenge existence of faculty unions

By Andrew Nowak

The University has spent over $60,000 in litigation against two recently formed faculty unions.

According to a CFA Local #6546 press release, a FOIA request made in February showed the University spent over $48,000 against CFA Local #6546, the non-tenure track faculty union, and $13,000 against Uni Faculty Organization, the University Laboratory High School faculty union.

“The University is responsible for being a good steward of our resources, so we work with outside counsel when that is the best approach for ensuring the University is able to operate in the most efficient, effective manner,” said Robin Kaler, campus spokeswoman.

Shawn Gilmore, CFA Local #6546 president and lecturer of English, said the amount of money spent on the litigation thus far was not surprising and seems to be consistent with how much the University spends on paying law firms during union contract cycles.

“It is in comparison to say, a salary, more than I make in a year,” Gilmore said. “Seems odd to me. You could’ve hired a whole other person for that amount of money.”

According to the union’s press release, the University employed law firm Clark Baird Smith LLP in 2010, and paid the firm $315 per hour since May 1, 2014, to work on litigating the CFA Local #6546 case.

CFA Local #6546 is represented by lawyers provided by the Illinois Federation of Teachers, IFT, which is a partner union of CFA Local #6546. The Illinois Federation of Teachers can pay for representation because of dues that local unions pay into IFT as partner unions. In return, IFT provides resources, such as this legal counsel, that smaller unions couldn’t necessarily attain on their own.

Gilmore said Local #6546 doesn’t collect dues yet, but once they do, they will also pay dues to IFT.

Kaler said the University’s stance is the non-tenure track faculty and University High teachers should be represented by one union. The University appealed the individual certifications of both unions last year. In August 2014, the Fourth District Appellate Court of Illinois decided to hear both cases and consolidated them.

In January, the court ruled that the two unions had the right to exist as separate entities. The University filed a petition to appeal the decision in the Illinois Supreme Court on Feb. 24, Kaler said.

Gilmore said the University’s decision to appeal the case again hasn’t affected collective bargaining.

“It is clear that they are willing to take quite a lot of time on each step, though it is not contentious directly,” Gilmore said. “Everyone involved actually seems to be in fairly good spirits about it, but there seems to be very little expediency.”

The University has made counterproposals to all of the union’s “non-economic” proposals, which means the University hasn’t yet proposed anything of its own in terms of salaries and benefits, Gilmore said.

“The administrative team has started putting these caveats at the bottom of their proposals saying that they can add to, delete and change any proposals at any time,” said Kay Emmert, CFA Local #6546 bargaining research chair and lecturer of English. “That’s really concerning because you can’t propose something and then suddenly change your mind about it.”

Kaler said the University’s proposals are subject to change because of the uncertainty of the pending litigation.

The University and CFA Local #6546 meet again for collective bargaining on April 8. Gilmore said they will likely go over the four proposals of the contract that both parties most closely agree on, which includes the recognition and non-discrimination proposals.

The University is prepared to bargain in good faith with either the two existing unions or a single union, depending on the outcome of the potential case, Kaler said.

The Illinois Supreme Court has yet to decide whether it will hear the case.

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