Unionization at University needs stronger, demonstrable goals
February 11, 2014
Deciding to form a union, especially at a university like ours, is complex, although members of the Campus Faculty Association and some of its strongest opponents would disagree.
At face value, we are inclined to support the formation of a union, which generally aims to make things better. But it gets tricky when a union needs to be more specific and define what exactly those “things” are.
So far, we’ve heard that the CFA wants more job security for non-tenure track faculty, better pay, clout in arguing for a better pension system and a more stable tuition for students.
And that’s where this gets tricky. The state owes so much money to the University, and its unseemly pension plan makes the situation for faculty here all the worse.
Chancellor Phyllis Wise is working to bolster the number and quality of faculty here so that we students can enjoy a better education. All of that’s hard to do at a public university when the funds are not there even as tuition climbs higher.
Harriet Murav, president of the CFA, said in a report by The Daily Illini that the would-be union doesn’t want to see an increase in tuition but wants a higher minimum pay for faculty members.
But the way it is, you can’t hire more faculty, raise salaries at a higher rat than they’re raised already and keep tuition where it is. It just doesn’t work that way. Something is going to give if the union forms and strives to accomplish all of its goals.
So what’s going to give? Students’ education. Of course, no one wants students to be negatively affected by a union or strike, if the potential union should get to that. But that’s what would happen.
Last year, the Graduate Employees’ Organization nearly went on strike, and it would have canceled classes across the University. Then, the GEO was willing to pit students against the University to achieve its goal. Fortunately, though, faculty were there to step in and help pick up what the GEO would have vacated during a strike.
To be clear, we don’t find the goals of either the CFA or the GEO to be trivial. There are real problems here that need solutions.
But deciding to unionize is something that can’t be undone. The hostility that will eventually form between the union and the administration will never cease. We need only to look at UIC and its looming strike to see that.
This needs further thought. The CFA needs to better assemble its mission and its goals and demonstrate how it plans to achieve what it wants with as little damage to students as possible.
Forming a union is a hefty decision. It will give the members of the union a voice to bargain with (who’s to say what will happen to those who decide not to join?), but a voice without demonstrably actionable goals that serve the interests of both students and faculty is not a force for good. It’s a force that stagnates and delineates.
Editor’s note: A previous version of the article incorrectly stated that if a faculty union would strike, the GEO would likely join. Under its contract with the University, the GEO is prohibited from participating in a strike. The paragraph has since been removed from the article. The Daily Illini regrets the error.