SIU Carbondale unions threaten to strike

After what one source called “460 days of fruitless negotiations” and unfair labor practice charges against the administration, multiple unions at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale have authorized a strike.

SIUC, which has 16,682 full-time students, has had three of four unions already threaten to strike. In the last week, the SIUC Faculty Association, Graduate Assistants United and the Association of Civil Service Employees have all voted to authorize a strike. The only union of the four that has not yet voted to authorize a strike is the Non-Tenure Track Faculty Association, who will vote Oct. 5.

However, questions have been raised on campus when the chancellor’s office asked library administrators to remove books containing salary information from library shelves.

Randy Hughes, professor of mathematics and president of the SIUC Faculty Association, said the potential strike is a result of “uncooperative and unproductive” negotiations for a new contract, after more than a year has passed since the association’s previous contract expired.

“Last spring, the SIUC administration declared an impasse in negotiations, even though we disagreed with that characterization,” Hughes said. “After that, they imposed the terms of their last offer on the units here on campus.”

The four units that had those terms imposed upon them filed unfair labor practice charges with the state, which may take several years to be settled, according to Hughes.

“The purpose of the authorization for a strike is to bring the board back to the bargaining table, with more of an attitude of give and take and more of a bargaining process, instead of just imposing what they want,” Hughes said.

SIU spokesman, Rod Sievers, said talks between the university and the organizations are still ongoing and were the key to solving the issue.

“The hope is that by staying at the bargaining table and continuing to negotiate that both sides will be able to work out an agreement that is acceptable to both sides,” he said.

Jim Podesva, SIUC graduate student and president of the Graduate Assistants United, said he thought the office of the SIUC Chancellor, Rita Cheng, has been handling the situation “completely improperly.”

“We had to threaten to file an unfair labor practice against the administration because there were administrators who were polling members to see who was ‘loyal and disloyal,’ who was going to strike and who wasn’t going to strike,” Podesva said. “That is illegal, and we had to threaten legal action to get them to stop.”

Siever said the polling issue was brought to the administration’s attention. One particular department chair had been asking questions in their department for the purpose of planning should the faculty go on strike. Once the administration was made aware, the department chair was told to stop.

“I think it lasted less than a day, so to cast that as a widespread problem would be incorrect, since it was confined to the one department and it really was an isolated incident,” he said.

Cheng addressed the strike authorization votes briefly in her state of the university address Thursday.

“I am extremely disappointed with this action for a number of reasons. I strongly believe an agreement can be reached if both sides are willing to spend the time needed to work through the issues realistically and in good faith,” she said.

Earlier last week, a source within the SIUC library system said the university’s general counsel had told them the salary information had to be removed because they violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, in listing graduate students’ names and salaries. The source asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to comment.

“To our knowledge, no one has had a problem with this,” the source said. “But according to legal counsel, their assistantships are considered part of their education package. Therefore, they cannot be listed there.”

After first being told the books had to be removed, the library received notice on Thursday that the books were to be “shredded.” However, that decision was rescinded. Instead they are being “permanently restricted” and can be only accessed through legal counsel, the source said.

To the source’s knowledge, the state archivist had not been included in the decision to destroy the records, who must be consulted before any state records can be eliminated.

Podesva said he didn’t know if the removal of the listings and the current strike situation are connected.

“I will say it’s a very strange coincidence. Especially, since this has never been an issue in the past,” he said.

Siever confirmed that because the books contain student names, they violate FERPA, and are no longer available. He said the salary information of other faculty and staff could still be accessed.

He added that he was unaware if the shredding of the books was considered.

“Certainly they haven’t been shredded and I suppose that’s what’s important,” he said.