GEO and Campus Faculty Association support unionization at news conference

By MaryCate Most

Members of the campus community gathered at the Campus Faculty Association’s press conference at 10 a.m. Wednesday to voice their support for faculty unionization.

In attendance were members of the Graduate Employees Organization, who negotiated a new contract with University administration in December 2012.

“We were just there letting them know how much we appreciated their support in the past and how much we appreciate what they are doing now,” said Stephanie Seawell, GEO spokesperson. “(Unionization) makes our campus stronger — making sure we have effective governance at the University is something that graduate students care about too.”

Unionization has become a controversial topic among faculty at the University — more than 120 faculty have already signed a statement in opposition of faculty unionization as a part of the Preserving Excellence campaign, headed by professors Joyce Tolliver, Jeff Brown and Nick Burbules.

Faculty members who signed the Preserving Excellence statement have listed the loss of critical faculty as one of their main concerns about unionization.

“I have heard people tell me that they would leave if the campus unionized,” Burbules said in an interview earlier this week. “That is why the campaign is called Preserving Excellence.”

Harriet Murav, president of the Campus Faculty Association, believes that faculty unionization is the best way to preserve, or restore, excellence on campus.

“I think there are misconceptions about … the perception that this is bad for prestige and bad for excellence,” Murav said. “I think what is bad for excellence is when people’s pensions are limited to salaries below what their current salaries are. That is what is going to drive away excellence — not unionization.”

On Feb. 4, the GEO issued a press release in support of the Campus Faculty Association’s mission to unionize.

“The Graduate Employees Organization is excited to work with the Campus Faculty Association as they work to form a union,” said GEO Co-President Clayton Alsup in a press release. “It sends a clear statement to the University of Illinois administration that we are prepared to stand in solidarity in order to maintain high quality education and working conditions at our university.”

GEO itself inspired the Campus Faculty Association to take action towards unionization, Murav said. Murav referred to a specific incident in which GEO asked for and received a contract and pay raise during a furlough.

“A lot of us faculty saw this and said, ‘If they can organize, and they are graduate students and we are professors, why can’t we organize?’” Murav said.

MaryCate can be reached at [email protected]