Unions reflect one year after strike

Faculty Association lead negotiator Morteza Daneshdoost addresses a crowd of faculty strike protesters after a march through campus that ended in front of the Student Center on Nov. 7, 2011. Union leaders have said the negotiations had an effect on members since agreements were made more than a year ago today. Nicole Hester- The Weekender

With looming budget cuts, possible faculty layoffs and an enrollment decline, SIUC faculty and staff have a lot on their plate.

However, one thing union leaders say has helped throughout tough times at the university are the changes made through contract negotiations last fall.

The Faculty Association, which represents tenured and tenure-track professors, went on strike Nov. 3, 2011. The bargaining teams did not reach an agreement until Nov. 9. The three other unions that represent SIUC employees also went through contract negotiations at the same time, but they reached agreements with the administration.

One year later, union leaders say the new contracts have been good for their members.

Chancellor Rita Cheng did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

Faculty Association

Rachel Stocking, Faculty Association president, said some of the changes that came from contract negotiations and affected tenured and tenure-track faculty the most include stipulations about layoff notices, furlough days and distance education course instruction.

According to the union’s contract, the SIU Board of Trustees must declare the university to be in financial exigency before the administration can announce layoffs.

“(This) is far, far better than what they had before,” Stocking said.

The new language developed through negotiations about unpaid furlough days, Stocking said, was not as strong as some faculty would have liked, but is still an improvement. The BOT must announce the institution is in a financial crisis before requiring faculty to take furlough days.

“I think that given the current budget cuts that they’re making now, I am particularly relieved that they can’t just furlough people at will or lay people off at will,” she said.

Although faculty can still be laid off and given furlough days after procedures have been followed, Stocking said these contract changes at least provide a sense of security for faculty.

Distance education was another concern of tenured and tenure-track faculty during contract negotiations. Stocking said what the union achieved in the  language revision around distance education and online classes was that faculty have the right to refuse to teach distance-learning classes.

“That doesn’t mean that people don’t want to do it, but they don’t want to be forced to do it if they don’t think it’s pedagogically sound,” she said.

Stocking said she thinks the university is turning to online classes to cut expenses. The ability to refuse to teach a distance class provides more choices for instructors, she said.

Other changes in the contract, she said, have shown effects that include a requirement that the faculty be given a proposed plan before any academic program reductions or mergers are made. Another important revision was a change in the language of the operating papers of different departments on credit-hour equivalencies, which is how a faculty member’s work is measured in terms of research and instruction.

Stocking said the university’s challenges and changes have a great effect on SIUC employees, and the contract language changes may be small next to those. Overall, though, she said she thinks the changes that came out of negotiations have helped with faculty’s peace of mind.

“It gave faculty sort of a sense that we are players in the game,” she said. “It’s not that the administration can do whatever they want. We have our contract … and it can protect us. That was something that was really important, particularly in the conditions we’re in now.”

 

Non-Tenure Track Faculty Association

Like the Faculty Association, the Non-Tenure Track Faculty Association members saw changes in their contracts regarding layoff notices. Unlike the Faculty Association, the NTTFA has received warning of possible layoffs twice this year: in July and October. The union will learn more about the possible layoffs Friday, union president Anita Barrett said.

Barrett said the layoff procedure was one of the more significant changes that came from negotiations for non-tenure track faculty. She said there was little clarification on how much time and notice faculty were to be given before layoff notices were sent under the old contract.

“These things don’t cost them any money,” she said. “And these were the kind of things we were asking for that we were very frustrated about that we finally got in the eleventh hour in the overnight negotiation that led up to the strike.”

Barrett said that is why faculty have received procedural letters that say layoffs are possible.

“It’s a good thing that they know about it and (the faculty) are not blindsided by the fact that they might lose their job,” she said.

Barrett said a downside to the notices is that they might be nerve-wracking to some faculty.

“But at least you know,” she said.

Other changes to the contract Barrett said were significant include continuing appointments for long-term part-time faculty and notice of reappointments for part-time continuing faculty, seniority layoff rights and salary compression. She said salaries had been compressed for some non-tenure track faculty who were at the university for a long time, but raises were approved to help alleviate them.

Another outcome of the negotiations was union awareness, Barrett said. Membership in the union has tripled since the strike, she said.

Barrett said how the faculty and students are effected by changes at the university is a major concern to her.

“This is my home,” she said. “I care about the region, the businesses, I care that people don’t lose their jobs here. These people that are my friends, we have a symbiotic relationship and I hate to see them hurt, I hate to see students hurt, and I hope it all turns around and will be better.”

 

Civil Service Union

Cyndie Kessler-Criswell, president of the Association of Civil Service Employees, said in an email she thinks the union members are most grateful for the raises they received as a result of the negotiations. However, she said those changes have come at a cost for the university.

“The pay raises that we’ve received have been put on the backs of the departments to do more with less,” she said.

Kessler-Criswell said she thinks union members have had mixed reactions to the new contract’s effects.

“I think that, for the most part, members have been pleased with what we were able to get for them,” she said. “Although I have been receiving emails from members that have had their workloads increased but they are not being compensated for this.”

While the union continues to work to ensure its employees are being compensated properly, Kessler-Criswell said a new concern is to deal with upcoming challenges.

“One of our goals was to have our positions restored back to our original numbers,” she said. “We are now facing layoffs and job reductions for ACSE members.”

Graduate Assistants United

University faculty and staff were not alone among those involved in contract negotiations last fall. Graduate Assistants United also recieved a new contract.

Kyle Cheesewright, GAU vice president for communications, said a major outcome of the negotiations was making the union’s presence known on campus. He said graduate students thought the administration were not looking out for graduate assistants best interests because of the low membership in the union.

“More students have become more interested,” he said. “Not only has the union become stronger and been able to advocate better, but we’ve been able to branch out.”

Cheesewright said the enrollment decline of both graduates and undergraduates this fall has affected many graduate assistants in both how they work and how their voices are heard. Because some classes have been reduced to fewer sections with more students in each, he said some GA’s  workloads have changed. But because there are fewer graduate students on campus, the union members have begun to work even closer, he said.

Cheesewright said, the GAU contract will go up for renewal next fall.

“No union wants to go on strike. No union wants to be at the negotiating table for over a year,” he said. “All of us want to do one thing: teach and research and serve the constituents, which are our students and community members of Carbondale and SIU.”

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