Faculty Association votes to support strike

By Gus Bode

Negotiations between faculty union and administration will continue Friday

The Faculty Association nudged closer to a possible strike after gaining membership approval Wednesday that allows the union’s leadership to call a walkout at SIUC.

However, whether there will actually be a strike remains to be seen.

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Members of the Faculty Association voted 306 to 40 in favor of a measure that permits Morteza Daneshdoost, the union’s president, to call a strike on or after Feb. 3, 2003, if a contract agreement is not reached by that date. The vote also permits the union’s legislative body, which consists of about 50 members, to call for a strike before February if the Faculty Association believes progress is stalling at the bargaining table.

“Today’s vote is an unmistakable indication of the faculty’s resolves to achieve a contract that is fair, equitable and that advances the interest of the University,” Daneshdoost said in a press conference Wednesday.

Faculty cast their ballots between Monday and Wednesday.

“Members who voted this week said they would do what is necessary, even if it means a strike that would close our beloved University,” Daneshdoost said.

Negotiations between the Faculty Association and SIUC administration have been ongoing since February. Members of the Faculty Association are working under the terms of a contract that expired in June.

“We hope the administration will bargain seriously because the stakes are now undeniably great and the time remaining is unavoidably short,” he said.

Daneshdoost stressed that union members are not happy about the prospect of a strike but remain eager for a contract.

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“This is not a time for celebration,” he said. “This is a time for unity in the face of resistance.”

SIUC Chancellor Walter Wendler said the University will continue to try reaching a contract agreement with the Faculty Association through negotiations. Bargaining teams from both sides plan to meet Friday.

“It’s unfortunate that the Faculty Association has chosen to authorize its leadership to call a strike,” Wendler said. “We remain committed to the negotiations process. We always have and will continue to put students first.”

Although the threat of a strike remains, both sides say they are hopeful that a faculty walkout is avoided.

Wendler said he would like to see a contract before Christmas and wants the bargaining teams to meet next week during the Thanksgiving break.

“I don’t think anyone really wants to go on strike,” he said. “We can reach some middle ground on these things.”

“I’m a very optimistic person,” Daneshdoost said. “If there is a will, there is a way to do it. This is not something we take lightly.”

Wendler also noted that the Faculty Association’s vote does not represent all faculty at SIUC. Of the 1,586 full-time and part-time faculty members, the union represents 684 tenure and tenure-track faculty, he said.

Out of the 684, about 60 percent are members of the union who had the right to vote, according to James Kelly, an associate professor of journalism and chair of the union’s public information committee. He said he did not have the exact figure because of new members joining but added that 88 percent of eligible members voted on the ballot this week.

Since Oct. 31, the union has had 40 new people become members, Kelly said.

During the voting, membership forms were available for faculty to fill out at the polling locations. If faculty became members, they were permitted to vote, Kelly said.

At the polling location, supervisors had a roster with a record of who was eligible to vote, Kelly said.

Those who joined could opt for a payroll deduction or pay their dues at the polling location, Kelly said. Dues are $484 a year.

The ballots were placed in a sealed box and not counted until 4 p.m. Wednesday, Kelly said. He said about 30 members of the Faculty Association were present during the ballot counting.

During the three-day period, the election’s supervisor regularly checked the box to ensure that it wasn’t tampered, Kelly said.

Wendler said a committee is making preparations for the University to use in the event of a strike. He said it is difficult to foresee how many faculty would cross picket lines if there is a strike but stressed that the academic quality will not be sacrificed if the University needs to find temporary replacements.

“We will not put people in classrooms who are not qualified to do that,” he said. “We will not ask anyone to do double duty.”

Graduate students would not be required to serve in place of faculty, Wendler said.

Both sides have proposed salary packages that were rejected. The Faculty Association requested a 21 percent increase during the next three years, and the administration recently offered a four-year proposal that called for no salary increases this year and increases during the next three years that could amount to a total raise of 15 percent.

However, the Faculty Association says the 15 percent figure is misleading because it depends on state appropriations that are not guaranteed. Additionally, the contract could be reopened if there is a state recision or other budget changes, a sticking point for the Faculty Association.

But Wendler said it’s difficult to give salary raises at this time because of the state’s poor economic condition. State lawmakers recently projected a deficit as high as $4 billion, Wendler said.

“I would be fiscally irresponsible if I didn’t take that into account,” he said. “I can’t offer what I don’t have.”

The Faculty Association has said that salaries at SIUC are 28 percent below the national average, a figure provided by the Chronicle of Higher Education. Wendler, though, said the figure is not accurate because it includes universities nationwide that are private and Ivy League schools.

Citing figures from the Illinois Board of Higher Education, Wendler said 18 percent of the University’s budget goes toward administrative costs – compared to the state average of 22 percent.

He also said the University spends 52 percent on faculty, which is roughly 2 percent ahead of the norm for state institutions, according to IBHE figures.

The Faculty Association, though, says there are many issues besides salaries, such as workloads, tenure and student/faculty ratios. But Wendler said the sticking points, while not directly tied to salaries, still involve finances that are limited.

“Every issue relates to money,” he said. “If we had unlimited resources, we wouldn’t need to worry about workloads.”

And while the Faculty Association can now hang the threat of a strike over the University, Wendler said he can’t let that influence his judgment during the negotiations process, which affects more than the faculty.

“I really want to do something for them but I also have these other thousands, multiplied thousands, tens of thousands of people that I’m responsible to,” he said. “I’m not going to treat that lightly.

“There’s a side of me that would like to just try to get the Board to give me permission to make an offer and just be done with it, but I can’t do that.”

Faculty hope that a strike is avoided but said they now have the power to do so.

“I’m very proud of this faculty,” said Joan Friedenberg, a professor of linguistics. “If they think this is a bluff, we’ll take it to the step.”

Reporter Ben Botkin can be reached at [email protected]

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