Whose University?

We’re getting closer, minute by minute, hour by hour, to a fair settlement. Here’s the message Randy Hughes, FA president, sent out this morning as an update:

Progress to date. November 9, 2011

Today, Wednesday, November 9th, we’re still on strike. But there is good news, too. In twelve hours of negotiations, our bargaining team made progress on a number of fronts. We are near agreement on language that will ensure that we retain our right to pursue our Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge concerning the unilateral imposition of furlough days last spring. And there was also some progress on countering the inflammatory and disrespectful language in the BOT back to work proposal. But at 9:00 pm the two bargaining teams mutually agreed to break off work for the night and return to the bargaining table at 9:30 am on Wednesday.

Slow progress, while better than no progress at all, is frustrating. And we all want to be in the classroom rather than on the picket line. But it’s important to remember everything that our hard work and resolve has enabled us to achieve so far. We’ve protected tenure. We’ve ensured that administrators cannot force faculty to teach distance education against our own academic judgement. We’ve strengthened shared governance by strengthening the faculty’s ability to control their own operating papers. We’ve reached a workable compromise on overload pay. And we’ve established a schedule for dealing with procedures concerning Conflict of Interest and Sexual Harassment.

Most heartening of all may well be the incredible support we’ve received from SIUC students. Their support has not only helped us achieve progress at the bargaining table, but is a victory in itself – a victory for our university, its students, and the bond between faculty and students on campus.

While we’ve made much progress, several important issues remain. The BOT proposal on furloughs, while it has been improved since the terms imposed on us in the spring, still fails to provide adequate transparency and accountability. Their back to work proposal would not provide for the make up days we would like to offer to students whose classes have been covered by unqualified substitutes. While it contains new language protecting actions taken in support of the strike, it still gives the false impression that faculty have engaged in misconduct and threats. And the administration is still unwilling to offer us the same chance for securing fair share that it has offered other locals.

These issues are worth fighting for. And if we remain united in our commitment to securing a fair agreement, we have every reason to believe that we can reach one sooner rather than later.

On top of this, there were victories in Ohio as union-busting legislation was soundly defeated.

Unfortunately, we will probably have a real fight on our hands in Illinois. The IEA reports that SB512 — which would cut pension benefits for ACTIVE EMPLOYEES — moved out of committee yesterday. The pension systems for public employees are their retirement funds — they’re not eligible for social security (even if they paid into the system at another job). This came about because of a state failure to pay its bills — so why is the state trying to unconstitutionally punish employees for it’s own failures? Way to create jobs in OTHER states. I finish my degree in 2013. I don’t know where I’ll end up. I’m sorry to say this — because I really love Illinois, it’s my home — but I won’t be applying for jobs here thanks to the mess the state has made.

Finally, join us today at the Stone Center at 3pm. We want to let the Board of Trustees know whose university SIUC really is.

November 3

DAYS WITHOUT A CONTRACT: 478

As most of you probably know, the FA’s Department Rep Council voted to set the strike date on 12:01am November 3rd. Today, the ACsE executive committee voted to set their strike date as November 3rd as well. I’ll link up their official announcement when I have it. The NTT House of Delegates meets tonight (and I’ll post info from their meeting later tonight). GAU is having an open meeting on Monday about our strike date.

This is happening. I feel confident in saying that none of us in union leadership wanted bargaining to come to this point. That’s part of the reason this has gone on so long – we wanted to exhaust every option, wait for the economy to turn around, for the state to make it’s payments, or just for the university to find a pot of gold buried under a tree next to Anthony Hall. None of those things have happened. So now we need to take the next step – setting the date of a strike to get us the fair contract we deserve.

As always, if you haven’t let these folks know how you feel, give them a call or send them an email:

Ms. Misty Whittington
Executive Secretary of the Board
Office of the Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees
(618) 536-3357

Rita Cheng: rcheng@siu.edu
SIUC Chancellor
(618) 453-2341

Glenn Poshard: poshard@siu.edu
SIU President
(618) 536-3357

Upcoming Events:
Monday October 24, 6-7pm, Student Center Ballroom C: GAU Open Meeting for a Bargaining Update and Setting a Strike Date

DAYS WITHOUT A CONTRACT: 463

There’s another call to action around pension reform going out through the IEA as they gear up for what’s likely to be a very interesting veto session in a few weeks. You can read the flier that came through here.

Also from the IEA is a request to fill out a budget survey. This is one of your chances to let the big organization know where you’d like your dues dollars to go — so I urge IEA members to take the time!

The DE reports that recruitment hasn’t been hurt by the labor dispute, mostly because the recruiters haven’t actually been telling prospective students there’s a labor dispute. Seems like another tactic to show that the university is “business as usual.”

Frankly, the university hasn’t been running as “business as usual” since the university called an impasse in bargaining for ACsE, FA, and NTTFA and imposed their terms and conditions on those bargaining units. The only way to get the university back to “business as usual” — for real — is to settle the contracts.

Have you contacted the Board, the President, and the Chancellor yet?

Ms. Misty Whittington
Executive Secretary of the Board
Office of the Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees
(618) 536-3357

Rita Cheng: rcheng@siu.edu
SIUC Chancellor
(618) 453-2341

Glenn Poshard: poshard@siu.edu
SIU President
(618) 536-3357

Upcoming Events:
SIUC Tuesday Work-ins (GAs + Allies)
Wednesday October 12, 4:30pm, Anthony Hall: PROTEST & PRESS CONFERENCE: Student Solidarity with Faculty, GAs & Staff

“A win for collective bargaining”

DAYS WITHOUT A CONTRACT: 462

Now that I actually have time to write, congratulations to the NTTs on their vote last night. For a group that is very vulnerable — the university tried to lay off just under 100 NTTs (including most of the union bargaining team) in December — that kind of vote is a real statement: we’re tired of this. We’re tired of an administration that seems to want to quash any sort of real voice employees might have — it seems to want to get rid of the unions (or at least create “shop unions,” that are firmly under the heel of the administration, regardless of what the employees might want). Apparently, they don’t even want us to talk to the students and answer their questions in a way that sounds fairly uncontroversial, according to the DE’s article about the meeting.

Anita Stoner, the president of the NTTs, told me this new vote was a “win for collective bargaining” in her text to let me know the results last night. She’s right — the success of our four votes is a win for people who are tired of being imposed on, vetoed, or just plain pushed around. We’re pushing back and the administration is starting to feel the pressure; that’s why they’ve upped their amount of emails and scary rhetoric. The best counter for that is to stand together.

We can get want we want: fair contracts. But remember the votes are only the first step!

We’re also gaining activists every day. People who are not union leadership, people who are allies, they’re on our side. We’re not alone in this. I’ll post announcements of upcoming events as I see them, whether they’re “union organized” or otherwise. Keep an eye on the “upcoming events” section!

Completely unrelated to the labor situation here, I have a bit of an update on the performance funding that is both reassuring and worrying at once. This comes from Larry Frank, who is part of the IEA’s research group and sitting on the committee:

The discussions thus far have been very general in nature and we’ve yet to see any proposal for a specific metric. The discussions have centered on keeping the formula simple (though a number of people have suggested a bunch of metrics so we’ll see how that shakes out) and recognizing that one size does not fit all (and this has been around the missions of different kinds of schools). I’d suggest you go to the IBHE website and check out the Performance Funding site. Under the link for “schedule of meetings” you’ll find all the material the committee has seen to date.

What I think you’ll find is that no clear vision exists with regard to what the metrics will be or, in fact, what the goal of a performance funding formula is. If you can make sense of what’s posted, let me know! I really don’t see where this is headed and there seems to be little agreement within the group as to what we want to accomplish.

So, we won’t end up with a Higher Ed version of No Child Left Behind… but since this is supposed to roll out in January, the lack of cohesion or vision is a little disturbing. The IBHE website can be found here.

Finally, I will actually be in Seattle next week, so we will have a surprise guest blogger!

Have you contacted the Board, the President, and the Chancellor yet?

Ms. Misty Whittington
Executive Secretary of the Board
Office of the Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees
(618) 536-3357

Rita Cheng: rcheng@siu.edu
SIUC Chancellor
(618) 453-2341

Glenn Poshard: poshard@siu.edu
SIU President
(618) 536-3357

In the News
NTTFA fourth union to authorize walkout [The Southern]
Four unions in contract negotiations authorize strike [Daily Egyptian]
Unions conduct info meeting for students [The Southern]

Upcoming Events:
SIUC Tuesday Work-ins (GAs + Allies)
Wednesday October 12, 4:30pm, Anthony Hall: PROTEST & PRESS CONFERENCE: Student Solidarity with Faculty, GAs & Staff

Collective Action Will Get Us A Contract

DAYS WITHOUT A CONTRACT: 450

We hit a milestone today. 450 days without a contract. Even longer since we started bargaining. GAU requested to begin bargaining in March 2010 and we had our first bargaining session with the administration’s team in April 2010. We managed to make some progress on minor issues but by October 2010, negotiations were mostly stalled. In March 2011, a federal mediator came in for two sessions before (as the mediator told us), the administration’s team had said there was nothing else to talk about. After we wrote a letter that appeared in the Southern, within a day a representative of the Board’s team had reached out to us to say “Oh, the mediator was wrong! We never meant to cut off negotiations!” and we went back to mostly unproductive sessions. Over the summer, we managed to clear out most of the minor issues we had on the table, leaving us with two major issues left: fees and health care.

When we conducted our multiple surveys, one-on-one conversations, and small focus groups, fees were the number one concern of graduate assistants on campus. Of our annual salary, the average PhD student working 20 hours a week (which is, of course, on the higher end of the stipend pay scale) pays 20 percent of their salary back to the university in fees. For many people, that amounts to two months of pay. GAs would need approximately a 12 percent stipend increase in a four-year contract to break even with the fees at the current level and this would not help us with future fees.

GAU proposed a fee freeze to try to minimize the damage fees are doing to the meager stipend we receive. The university administration said no and gave no alternate solution. We proposed a higher stipend to reduce the deterioration of our stipends. The university countered with an offer: the Board allocates raises at the rate of non-union employees. This would take wages completely out of our hands and still does not address the issue of fees. At our last bargaining session (September 15, 2011), the university’s bargaining team told us they had an economic offer which they even admitted we wouldn’t like. While we have yet to see that offer, I believe their team will be right: any economic package that does not address where 20% of our stipend goes is one that is not good enough.

Our other issue, health care, has reached even more ridiculous heights. What do you call you a health plan that offers no coverage for vision, dental, partners/dependents, no prescription drug coverage, no coverage for pre-existing conditions for a year (industry standard in the private sector is only six months, by the way), has a $1000 maximum-out-of-pocket for a low wage population, only covers 85% of your expenses, which you cannot completely opt-out of even if you have access to a better plan, is not comparable with similar plans accross the state, and costs you a miminum of $430 annually? Here at SIUC, we call it our student health care plan.

The DE actually has a fairly good article, Students speak out about university insurance policy, which focuses on that lack of coverage. What you may not realize is that the university has total control over that health care plan. They can change it any time — but don’t.

Worse, we asked for information from the university’s team about health care in June. We don’t have that information (and at our bargaining session last week we were told they didn’t even have a guess on when it might be available) — but at least one of the figures we asked for showed up in that article.

There’s also a nicely written plea in the DE from an undergraduate student to the faculty: Think of the students before a strike. This is, of course, hard to read. On one hand, as a student I understand completely what this letter means. On the other, it feels like the administration has forced us so our backs are to the wall and other collective actions we have done have produced no movement. That’s what the vote will hopefully do; just because we vote to authorize a strike doesn’t mean we may actually go on strike. I hope that the message we send by voting yes is more than enough to produce the movement and productivity, overcome the walls of “no” and roadblocks of delays, and net us a fair contract.

Finally (because I’ve rambled enough), ACsE has announced their vote as well: Tuesday September 27, 11:30-1, 4-5:30, Student Center Ballroom A: Association of Civil Service Employees Vote. We’ll also be having informational tabling in the student center (by the escalators), from 10-2 today, Monday, and Tuesday. If you have questions, concerns, comments — stop by and talk to us!

Upcoming Events:
Friday September 23, 10-2: Informational Tabling in the Student Center
Monday September 26, 10-2: Informational Tabling in the Student Center
Tuesday September 27, 10-2: Informational Tabling in the Student Center
Tuesday September 27, 11:30-1, 4-5:30, Student Center Ballroom A: Association of Civil Service Employees Vote
Wednesday September 28: Faculty Association Strike Authorization Vote
Friday September 30: GA United Strike Authorization Vote
Wednesday October 5, 5pm: Informational Meeting for Students About Striking

More Information Available

DAYS WITHOUT A CONTRACT: 447

I suspect a lot of the posts over the next few days will be information updates! Which, speaking of, we have more information today! Yesterday (if you didn’t see the post) we had information on COBRA and today we have some information about the IEA-NEA strike loans.

Upcoming Events:
Wednesday September 28: Faculty Association Strike Authorization Vote
Friday September 30: GA United Strike Authorization Vote