Unions picket 428 days without contract

By Gus Bode

Senior lecturer of Aviation Flight, Gerald Spittler, along with colleagues, picketed the outer edge of campus Thursday at the corner of Highway 51 and Grand Avenue. Despite the heat index exceeding 99 degrees, more than 300 university employees, Carbondale residents, students and activists signed in at the rally to show their support of those affected without contracts. The Illinois Education Association unions at SIUC have begun their second year without contracts. Eric Ginnard | Daily Egyptian

For two hours Thursday in 99-degree weather anywhere from 50 to 100 union members picketed at any given time in protest of continued contract negotiations.

More than 300 Carbondale residents, students and activists signed in at the demonstration on the intersection of Highway 51 and Grand Avenue, where picketers carried signs, some of which said “We are the heart of SIUC,” “Fair contracts for quality employees” and “I love my students but I fear my administration.”


Jim Clark, an Illinois Education Association representative, said the goal of the rally was to dramatize the situation of the four IEA unions at Southern Illinois University Carbondale —the SIUC Faculty Association, the Non-Tenure Track Faculty Association, Graduate Assistants United and the Association of Civil Service Employees – that have gone 428 days without a contract.

“In the week before Labor Day to have unions without contracts is unfair to the employees,” Clark said. “Not having a collective bargaining contract is a ticking time bomb getting ready to go off. We have been patient and suffered under imposed terms by the chancellor.”

The four unions filed intent-to-strike notices in April.

“We are waiting to see if the chancellor can get an agreement quickly and if she doesn’t then other considerations will start coming in,” Clark said.

Chants of “Rita says cut back, we say fight back” could be heard at the rally over car horns honking as they passed.

Cheng said the campus does not have the money to cover the deficit and when the state appropriations are cut and tuition cannot be raised enough to cover all of the deficit, additional cuts had to be made across the university.

“We can’t spend money we don’t have,” she said.


Cheng sent an email Wednesday to SIUC faculty and staff in regard to the Financial Progress Report that was submitted to the Higher Learning Commission and the “false assumptions in some parts of campus.”

In the email Cheng said fiscal year 2010 began with a structural deficit of $13 million, so unpaid closure days and a hiring freeze were implemented. The deficit for FY11 was reduced to $5.7 million. The combination of savings from the hiring freeze and unpaid closure days helped to temporarily cover the deficit for fiscal year 2011 and 4 to 5 percent budget cuts to all colleges and academic buildings, Cheng said.

“No one wanted to take unpaid days, but I was heartened by the recognition of so many, including many labor unions, that by working together and with temporary sacrifice, we could continue our mission and avoid layoffs, which would have had consequences for families, communities and, of course, the university,” Cheng said in the email.

Kristi Brownfield, vice-president of communications for GAU, said she thinks 428 days without a contract shows that the administration’s priorities are not in education or providers of education.

“I love SIUC … and I feel like the administration doesn’t particularly love me back,” she said. “For (graduate assistants) as students especially we are paying into this (university) and it feels like all they care about is the money we are bringing in. I feel like a walking dollar sign.”

Brownfield said GAU bargains for fee freezes, better health care and stipend increases.

Janelle Briggs, a graduate assistant from Monroe La. in speech communication, said she does not think GAU asks too much.

“The fact that by the time we get our paycheck we do not begin making money until October because our fees are so high is ridiculous,” she said. “We are not paid a living wage by any stretch of the imagination, so I think asking for basic needs to be met is really reasonable.”

Randy Hughes, president of the FA, said he hopes the rally sends a message to the university administration and the SIU Board of Trustees.

“What we have been offered so far is unacceptable,” he said.

In a report from the FA bargaining team Wednesday, Hughes said the administration has said no to efforts made in the language of the contract to protect faculty interests and hold the administration accountable.

He said there has been a shift of resources in recent years.

Signs bearing slogans such as “428,” “Students and workers are the heart of SIU” and “We are the face of education” littered the ground Thursday near the intersection of Interstate 51 and Grand Street during the protest for a fair labor contract. Four associations — the Faculty Association, Graduate Assistants United, the Non-Tenure Track Faculty Association and the Association of Civil Service Employees — protested Thursday after working for 428 days without a labor contract. Genna Ord | Daily Egyptian

“Fees are proposed by the administration and ratified by the board, and they make the decision where the fees go,” he said. “They have the power to change the way money is allocated across campus.”

Anita Stoner, president of the NTTFA, said her main concern is provide best possible education for SIUC students.

“That involves faculty governance, shared governance and settled contracts,” she said.

Stoner said the chancellor’s claims that there were no layoffs is not entirely true for NTT faculty.

“They can claim there are no layoffs but in the non-tenure track they cannot reappoint us,” she said. “We have had a lot of non-reappointments and they want the power to be able to do that.”

Ami Ruffing, a member of the bargaining team for the ACSE, said the association wants to rid the imposed terms and conditions the administration is allowed to put on the employees.

Cyndi Kessler-Criswell, president of the ACSE, said the association has asked for many things that would not cost the university anything, such as better vacation benefits.

“Right now if you want a vacation day you have to ask in advance and be approved in advance to take your vacation time. But there are times when you may have a water main break, heating and air conditioning go out, you call and alert the university and say you can’t make it and they say you have to,” she said. “You have to decide if you want to kind of screw over your family or if you want to come to work and that is difficult.”

Cheng said the university has to focus on positive outcomes for the future.

“Individuals continue to say that we don’t have a budget problem and individuals don’t seem to connect the ten years of declining enrollment with the fact that we haven’t had an effective brand and marketing and enrollment management strategic initiative,” she said. “People have somehow suggested that our infrastructure doesn’t have to be taken care of.”

Sarah Schneider can be reached at [email protected] or 536-3311 ext. 255.