The Chancellor’s Friday Night Special

When you attempt to distract people from the real issues by trotting out legalisms, it’s best to get them right.

The Chancellor sent out an email at 5:30 Friday night claiming that SIUC unions had been misleading people by saying that they’d been working without a contract. (The full text of the email can be found at the end of this posting.) The most important point here is that the Chancellor is attempting to avoid the substance of the disagreements between her administration and the unions–the matters being negotiated at the bargaining table–by making irrelevant and misleading legalistic attacks. I’ll attempt below the break to explain just why the Chancellor’s email is misleading.

I think the only part of her email worth responding to above the fold is this.  The Chancellor once again chides the unions for failing to submit her imposed terms to votes by their membership. The elected representatives of those unions decided in the spring that no such vote was necessary, as the terms were clearly unacceptable. This fall, however, all four locals did hold votes. These votes did not only reject the Chancellor’s proposed agreement, but authorized a strike to contest them. That’s a pretty strong vote of support for their unions–and rejection of the Chancellor’s proposals. In case she’s forgotten, here’s how those votes turned out:

NTT FA: 83% in favor of strike authorization.
GA United: 97% in favor of strike authorization.
FA:  92% in favor of strike authorization.
ACsE: 80% in favor of strike authorization.

Perhaps the elected representatives of the unions understood the wishes of their constituents a bit better than the Chancellor does.

Here’s what we mean when we say we’ve been working without a contract for 486 days (as of Saturday, 10/29/2011), a claim the Chancellor challenges in her email. We’ve been saying that because it’s been that long since our last contracts expired–July 1, 2010. That’s what we meant when we said we were working without a contract.  Our old contract had expired.

It is indeed true that, as the Chancellor points out, our contracts contained a clause saying that their provisions would remain in force so long as neither side gave notice otherwise. This is a standard clause in any contract the FA, at any rate, has negotiated with the administration. So after July 1, we were protected by most of the terms of the contract. On the other hand, the expiration of a contract meant to last four years means that one is working on borrowed time, as it were. Perhaps, in keeping with the spirit of the season, one can speak of an undead contract. The 2006-2010 contract naturally contained no language for salaries for 2011, for example. But had that contract remained in effect the dynamic status quo guaranteed by that contract would have remained in effect. For example, salary levels would have remained set at 2010 levels, save for those who were promoted and received promotional raises.

Last spring this changed. The Chancellor declared that negotiations were at an impasse and imposed terms on us. In the view of the unions, those imposed terms were no contract, for the simple reason that a contract requires mutual agreement between two parties, and there was no mutual agreement here. So from the date of the imposed terms, there was a new sense in which we were working “without a contract”: not only had our old contract expired, the Chancellor had stuck a wooden stake through its heart by imposing terms of her own devising (including furlough and layoff procedures). The unions made an Unfair Labor Practice filing against SIUC, arguing that her claim that negotiations were at an impasse was bogus.

The administration, however, has continued to speak, in rather Orwellian terms, as if a contract, a collective bargaining agreement, were in place. Because of this, the unions decided that it would be prudent to go ahead and send the administration the ten-day notice the Chancellor alludes to in her message. That is, in order to be absolutely certain that there is no possible legal objection to a strike, the unions decided to send this note to the administration as if the administration’s legal theory held true.

We did this because we are absolutely committed to following the law and leaving no possibility whatsoever of any legal challenge to a possible strike action. It is telling that the Chancellor hopes that she can confuse some people and distract our attention from the substance of negotiations by attempting to use our scrupulous attention to the law against us. Her administration failed, for month upon month, to take seriously its obligation to seriously bargain in order to replace the contract that expired 486 days ago. Then, in March of 2011, it unilaterally imposed terms of its own, replacing the expired contract with language the unions did not agree to. Now she is claiming that it is we who have been inconsistent.

We chose not to publicize the ten day letter the Chancellor trumpets in her email precisely because we consider the letter a mere legal formality and did not want to distract people from the serious business at hand, negotiating fair contracts for all four locals. We hope that the Chancellor will put her energies toward genuine negotiations during this crucial time period, rather than attempts to confuse people by misleading accusations like those in this email.

Friday’s email from the Office of the Chancellor:

KNOW THE FACTS: CONTRACT OR NO CONTRACT?

Did you know?………

For several months the campus community has seen various individuals carrying signs that state „(X number) of Days Without a Contract‰.  The explanation given for the signs has been that the four IEA unions on campus have been forced to work „without a contract‰ for well over a year.

FACT #1:  The employees represented by these unions have never been without a contract.  Existing contract terms state that:

„Notwithstanding any provisions of this Article or Agreement to the contrary, this Agreement shall remain in full force and effect until after the expiration date and until a new agreement is reached unless either party gives at least ten (10) days advance written notice to the other party of its desire to terminate this Agreement; provided such termination date shall not be before June 30, 2011, or the anniversary date of a subsequent year as set forth in the preceding paragraph. Upon termination of this Agreement, all benefits and obligations hereunder shall be terminated and shall not survive the Agreement unless otherwise required by law.

FACT #2:  On Tuesday, October 18, 2011, each of the four IEA bargaining units issued an official notice to the University that on October 28, 2011 they were officially terminating their contracts with the University.   The letters were signed by the respective Association Presidents (Randy Hughes-SIUCFA, Anita Stoner ˆ NTTFA, Cyndie Kessler-Criswell-ACsE, Jim Podesva-GAU) and each contained the following statement:

„∑consistent with the terms of our labor agreement as well as the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act, please consider this letter as your official notice of the (insert applicable unit) Association‚s desire to terminate the continuation of the Agreement, effective ten days from receipt of this letter.‰  

Perhaps they did have a contract after all??

FACT #3: Prior to finally implementing contract terms in March 2011, the University offered multiple contract packages for these unions to consider. Unfortunately, they refused to allow the employees they represent to vote on these proposed contracts.

Perhaps a more factual sign would read „It‚s been 485 Days that I have not been allowed to vote on a new contract.‰

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3 thoughts on “The Chancellor’s Friday Night Special

  1. If this were a political campaign and I were a consultant, I would have counseled strongly against including the third “fact.” I don’t think it was in the Administration’s interest to encourage folks to recall the recent union votes to authorize the strike — and whatever point they were trying to make was lost in the obvious response the unions have made here and elsewhere. In general, I don’t think this was a very wise email, even if its contents are technically accurate (which of course, through the sin of omission, they are not).

  2. Here’s the dirty little secret the unions don’t want you know. they keep using percentages in the hopes of conveying big numbers. In reality, we’re talking about 200-300 people total. Out of about 3,400. A very, very small minority.

  3. I can speak only about the FA, which has been pretty up front about its figures. FA membership is currently about 250 (I must say “about” because the figure is changing of late–it’s rising). That’s about 40% of the total number of faculty on campus, so it is a minority, but hardly a very small one. This figure compares favorably with figures at other similar universities with faculty unions. Many faculty, for a wide variety of reasons, choose not to pay the roughly $650 in annual dues. One gets the same contract (including salary and benefits) whether or not one pays dues, so there is an obvious temptation to decline to pay. Illinois law allows this sort of set up, in which the majority of faculty vote to establish a union, but only a minority of faculty elect to pay dues.

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