Faculty Association considering strike

By Gus Bode

Wendler says classes will continue if strike breaks out

Factoid:The Faculty Association is planning an informational picket from 11:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. today in the Free Forum Area on the south side on Anthony Hall

The Faculty Association said a strike at the University is possible, but SIUC Chancellor Walter Wendler countered with a promise Wednesday that classes will remain in session if the union makes that decision.

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The negotiations – ongoing since February – stalled Tuesday without a favorable agreement reached between the union and SIUC administration. The Faculty Association filed a notice of intent to strike Wednesday with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, a legal step necessary to take before union members can begin a strike, Daneshdoost said.

Although the notice filed with the board allows the faculty union to strike anytime after Nov. 10, the union’s members all have to vote on the decision. After meetings next week, members of the union will decide if a vote is necessary and review options, Daneshdoost said, declining to speculate how long it will take for the faculty to reach an agreement on a potential strike.

“We are going to talk to our membership and our membership is going to tell us what to do,” he said.

Wendler, though, said the administration has been reviewing ways to prepare for a strike for the last several weeks. The Faculty Association has a bargaining unit of about 688 tenure and tenure-track professors, and it is unclear how many would walk out in support of a strike.

“We’re carefully making plans now,” Wendler said. “This organization is filled with professional people. Classes will not be canceled.”

The Faculty Association is planning an informational picket from 11:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. today in the Free Forum Area on the south side of Anthony Hall. Literature will be passed out to community members interested in learning about the union’s labor issues.

Negotiations ended shortly after the University’s administration offered the faculty union a five-year salary package Tuesday that included a wage freeze for this year and increases during the next four years that are proportional to state appropriations for raises. The Faculty Association’s bargaining team rejected the offer, Daneshdoost said.

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“Their offer does not meet the need of faculty in the University,” he said. “What they offered was unrealistic. They have to come up with an offer that meets our needs.”

The Faculty Association requested a salary and benefits increase of 21 percent during the next three years, an amount that the University’s administration contends is not possible because of state budget problems.

Wendler said the state reduced SIUC’s funding by more than $10.5 million for this year’s budget, and required the University to pay almost $5 million in additional funds for group health insurance. The roughly $15.5 million figure created a budget crunch that makes raises difficult, Wendler said.

Additionally, the state government’s budget has a debt of about $2 billion, and no other state universities have offered raises this year, Wendler said.

“Until we get a more clear understanding of our budget picture, I can’t commit to raises,” he said. “Our fate is tied to the fate of the state economy.”

Still, the Faculty Association says professor pay is not on par with peer institutions. Professor pay ranks at 97 percent of the average salaries of 38 peer universities chosen by the Illinois Board of Higher Education. The average pay for faculty is $60,200, with salaries ranging from $49,258 for assistant professors to $75,961 for full professors, according to the Illinois Board of Higher Education.

Daneshdoost believes the University should look not only at IBHE peers but also institutions named in Wendler’s Southern at 150 plan, a set of goals for where SIUC should be by the year 2019. The goals include increased faculty salaries.

Wendler said becoming comparable with peer institutions is important but will take time with the budget problems.

“It is our goal to be on par with our peers,” he said. “I think in time we can do that.”

Wendler also noted that as chancellor, he has to look at the University as a whole and make the best choices possible.

“I have to think of all the pieces of the pie,” he said. “This is a complex organization.”

Reporter Ben Botkin can be reached at [email protected]

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