Legislative Update

DAYS WITHOUT A CONTRACT: 425

One of my many union hats is as a member of the IEA Higher Education Council, which is a state-wide body designed to advocate for higher ed members within the IEA organization. This is my fourth, and final, year on the council and it’s been a really interesting and rewarding experience. What it does give me is access to lot of IEA people. We had a meeting this weekend in Springfield, which meant I got a legislative update directly from the IEA’s Higher Ed lobbyist, Gaye Larison. Some things she told us I thought everyone would be interested in:

Right now, one of the biggest issues for higher ed as we move into the veto session is performance funding. IEA is sitting on a task force with labor, management, and an outside consulting firm from Ohio. I believe this is the same committee Rita Cheng sits on (though don’t quote me on that because I could be wrong). The first business meeting of this committee is tomorrow and it sounds like the metrics discussed have only been completion rates and graduation rates for different populations.

As far as health insurance, there’s been a lot of rumbling in the capital. The Speaker, Mike Madigan, has expressed several times that he wants the state out of the insurance business completely, so you may see more wrangling with that after the temporary extension of contracts is up. In contrast to Madigan’s “hands off” approach, Governor Quinn has been trying to come up with a program where state employees pay more for health insurance. He wants to tier how much you pay based on how long you’ve worked and your age. This push apparently “has legs” in the capital but, as Gaye said, Quinn hasn’t been very successful with the legislature recently either. We don’t know if this new plan would grandfather in current retirees either. What happens really would depend on the bargaining with AFSCME because most of the state’s employees are members of that union.

She also made a plea that higher ed members go to IEA recommendation hearings to address and explain higher ed issues. Apparently, most legislators need to be educated that there is more than just K-12 in the public system let alone the challenges we face. Next year is an election year and, given the redistricting, it could be a hot one. I’ll post dates of local hearings when they’re set.

If anyone wants more information on any of these issues, leave a comment! I’ll get in touch with Gaye and try and get answers for you.

EVENT REMINDERS:
Sign-Making Party:
Monday August 29th
AAA Storage, 2524 Old Highway 13 Carbondale from 5:00-7:00pm
We’ll be making signs in preparation for our Labor Day Demonstration; good people, good fun; come join us!

GAU Open Meeting
Wednesday August 31
Lawson 231, 6pm-7:30pm
Come meet the GAU officers, bargaining team members, get informed about who we are, what we do, and what will happen if we cannot come to an agreement with the university.
The first 10 signed in attendees will receive a free 2GB flash drive!

Labor Day Demonstration: Support Quality Education
Thursday September 1
The intersection of 51 and Grand Avenue, 11am-1pm
This rally is to support quality education provided by professionals — faculty, staff, and graduate assistants — who will (on Thursday) have been working 428 days without a contract. If you support labor, if you support the people who are the heart of the university, if you support fair contracts, if you support SIUC and the SIUC community — show up! Show the administration we’re serious about what we do and settling the open contracts. You can also see the event on Facebook.

NTTFA Social Event
Tuesday September 6
Callahan’s, 4-6pm
Meet and greet the NTT leadership. All NTT represented are welcome. First drink is on us.

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Day Two

DAYS WITHOUT A CONTRACT: 419

Performance-based funding is here! Apparently Rita Cheng and accounting professor Allan Karnes are both on the steering committee. The Daily Egyptian’s article was light on specific metrics, but the emphasis on graduation and retention should give readers a clue of where this is heading. Those of you doing a really close reading will also note that the metrics (and goals) are only for undergraduate bachelor’s and associates degrees. What metrics, if any, are there for graduate education? Certificates? Degrees? Do advanced degrees (which, like a 4-year degree are becoming increasingly necessary for high-level jobs) not matter?

As many questions as I have about the direction the state is going for performance-based funding, I suppose I’m grateful we’re slightly better off than our K-12 colleagues — we’re not teaching to the test under No Child Left Behind (or as many K-12 teachers I know refer to it, Every Child Left Behind). Standards aren’t a bad thing nor do I think performance-based funding could be a bad thing either. But when one single metric is used, often without regard to university mission or the social situation, I start to worry a little.

Central Michigan Faculty Strikes; University Plans Classes [Inside Higher Ed] and Judge orders CMU faculty to end strike [Detroit News]. The faculty at CMU have been without contracts since June 30th, were unable to resolve conflicts with the administration before classes started — and they began the year with a strike. Good for them.

But think about that — they’ve been without contracts since June 30th 2011. We’ve been without contracts since June 30th 2010. The only way these open contracts will be settled is if we force the university to come to the table with a real interest in bargaining and creating solutions to the issues each local has left. CMU faculty went on strike to do it. Now’s the time everyone here at SIUC really starts thinking about what we’re willing to do and how long we’re willing to let this go on. I know my patience with the administrative shuffle is wearing pretty thin.

What Is A Union?

DAYS WITHOUT A CONTRACT: 400
DAYS UNTIL THE START OF THE ACADEMIC YEAR: 15

A lot of things going on today; I almost don’t know where to start (other than boggling a little at 400 days)! I suppose I’ll start internal and work my way out.

One of the new changes at SIUC that has students a little riled seems to be the installment plan to pay for tuition and fees. The plan includes a $30 processing fee and some of the initial negative reaction seemed to be over confusion whether this program was mandatory or not (it’s not). What the program does is “Nelnet, an outside corporation, will pay the full amount (essentially giving the student a short term loan) that must be repaid in four months. This means the university gets their money, and if a student defaults, the outside corporation will operate as a debt collection agency to get their money back from the student. The university is also now charging a 1.5% interest/service fee on tuition/fees each month it is unpaid” (from Carl Bloom, GPSC President) — unless you are enrolled in the program.

So, despite the “voluntary” nature of the payment plan, SIUC is doing its best to make the installment option the best (and only) financially feasible option.

Also speaking of students and student debt, Students to feel pinch in debt deal [CNN]. Beginning July 1, 2012, there will be no more subsidized loans for graduate students (making me wish I’d elected to finish in three years instead of four). About the only good thing about this change is the money gained by this change will be going to Pell Grants, so even though they’re basically taking money from graduate students to pay for undergraduate education (only a small number of teacher certification/credentialing programs and eligible for Pell Grants at the graduate level), the money is at least staying in education and not going to pay for something else entirely.

But as an Inside Higher Ed report shows, the U.S. is number one for cost internationally. This, combined with the lack of good financial aid and scholarships, makes it hard to compete in the international arena for students.

Perhaps the lack of decent financial aid is because some colleges and universities are burdened by the need to fill “golden parachutes” for administration? Another report on Inside Higher Ed looks at the “golden parachute” phenomenon, where administrative appointments have (some may say overly) generous leaving packages:

including large salaries, extended time off, light workloads, and the right to tenure. While the necessity of these deals is the major question at a lot of institutions, they also raise philosophical concerns, such as why a traditional faculty position — often viewed as a fairly well-paying and flexible job by the public — just isn’t good enough for former administrators.

Speaking of benefits, Appellate court upholds ruling on new state employee health contracts [State Journal-Register]:

The 4th District Appellate Court decision means the temporary three-month contracts worked out after Sangamon County Associate Judge Brian Otwell’s ruling won’t be replaced — at least for now — by the original long-term contracts awarded by the state this spring.

You can also read The Southern’s take on the court decision.

And finally, there’s a very nice letter to the editor in the Southern today which calls out the July 17th editorial. I’m still waiting to see my letter to the editor about this editorial from the 27th. I think if I don’t see it show up soon (especially since the Southern called to verify I wrote it over a week ago), I may just go ahead and post it here. Today’s letter, though, says:

What do these union brothers and sisters want?

Among other things, they want their collective bargaining rights fully recognized and contracts honored. They want the administration to respect tenure – in a factory and other work places it’s called seniority. And they want the administration to comply with the law regarding health care for all employees.

Sounds like the rest of us, wanting to do our jobs under fair working conditions and maybe make a decent living in the process.

That’s exactly right. We want fair work places that compensate quality employees for their good work, where collective bargaining and employee voice is honored. And right now — we want settled contracts.

There is Power in a Union

DAYS WITHOUT A CONTRACT: 398
DAYS UNTIL THE START OF THE ACADEMIC YEAR: 17

Something in the Daily Egyptian I somehow missed when it was printed:

Budget crunch eliminates bus routes
Three bus routes in town are being combined into one to save money. According to the article, low ridership helped make that decision so it’s possible this change isn’t impacting too many people but we can expect the new route to be slow. On the other hand, when “low ridership” is reported, I wonder if that’s specifically in the summer and if the number of people on those routes will jump again in the fall (especially given gas prices). The other reason why this might be important is because it’s another example of university spending priorities. Services are cut and stadiums are built. Huh.

And an interesting Capitol Report from the IEA can be found here. House leaders invited different groups in for meetings about pensions and the IEA went in on July 21. Apparently:

Regarding the pension funding reform discussion, IEA is taking the following positions: 1) Any proposed changes must be legal under the Illinois Constitution, 2) Proposed revenue options must be designed to enable the state to meet its funding obligation to the pension systems, and 3) The only changes that should be considered are those that will not diminish the stability of the pension systems.

The initial meeting concluded without any decisions or agreement. Further meetings are expected to be scheduled. Speaker Madigan asked both the Illinois House members and the public employee unions to submit lists of discussion topics relating to pension funding and pension benefits for active employees.

We (GAU) are going into bargaining this afternoon. Wish us luck at getting closer to a fair contract!

Finally, in the next couple of days you should see an archive of all the Strike Watches (or bargaining updates, whatever they might be called) from the four locals start to go up as I get them.

Debt, Debt, Debt, and More Debt

DAYS WITHOUT A CONTRACT: 394
DAYS UNTIL THE START OF THE ACADEMIC YEAR: 21

A quick perusal of the headlines — local, state, and national — this morning brings up a pretty obvious emphasis on one word: debt. Thinking about debt and the debt ceiling and the somewhat-showy political fights in Washington and Springfield over debt (and spending) is important. We need citizens active and informed about what our government is doing — and then taking collective action to fight injustice. I don’t pretend to have the answers to our financial woes; I’m not an economist, I’m a sociologist. My job isn’t to understand line-item budgets (though I’m making an attempt to understand, given it’s a skill which seems increasingly necessary for a citizen to have); my job is to understand people and how they behave. Though who knows, the more I learn about Springfield, the more I wonder if that’s not the problem; we have too many economists, business owners, and lawyers who are politicians and not enough people who are in human service fields.

Anyway, enough rambling (sorry, I’m obviously still not rested from my trip yet):

Fixing Debt [Inside Higher Ed]
A downgrade of the government’s credit rating could also potentially lead to a downgrade of public universities’ ratings as well.

Stalemate Over Federal Debt Ceiling Leaves Student-Aid Funds in Limbo [Chronicle of Higher Education]
If we default on the August 2 deadline, the government won’t be able to pay out Pell Grants or student loans. More troubling for me personally is the move to stop the in-school subsidy for graduate students in both proposals, especially since the interest rate on those student loans is likely to go up.

Colleges boost student fees to fill gaps in state funding [USA Today]
I bet you didn’t think the incoming students were funding the Chancellor’s Convocation. While this USA Today report on rising fees calls it a “‘matriculation fee’ for orientation costs,” it basically boils down to the university charging freshmen (I actually typo’ed ‘freshmeat’ there and, perhaps, it’s more accurate) and transfer students a $150 fee to welcome them to the university.

“Dodgers, Coasters, Sherpas, Pioneers and Stars”

DAYS WITHOUT A CONTRACT: 385
DAYS UNTIL THE START OF THE ACADEMIC YEAR: 30

Today’s blog title is brought to you by an article on Inside Higher Ed: Calling Out ‘Coasters’ or Name-Calling? Essentially, Rick O’Donnell (former adviser to the University of Texas Board of Regents) released a paper that divides out faculty in five groups:
Dodgers: teach few students and bring in no research funding
Coasters: senior/tenured faculty with reduced teaching loads that produce no significant or new research
Sherpas: untenured faculty who do most of the teaching and produce little or no research
Pioneers: highly productive in research, but do little teaching
Stars: highly productive faculty in both teaching and research

Sort of an interesting comment on the state of higher education today. Not necessarily so much because of the classifications O’Donnell uses but more for the way those classifications seem to fall along the lines of the way the general public sees higher education and the higher education mission as being just about teaching students (usually only undergraduates). Obviously, those of us in higher education haven’t done a great job of actually educating the public about what we do: teaching, research, service, mentoring (I wonder how many of those “coasters” end up spending a lot of time serving as dissertation and thesis chairs for graduate students or mentoring junior faculty?), and a million other things that go on beyond getting grant money (which seems to be O’Donnell’s sole indicator for “research”) or teaching.

In some good news, closer to home, we have a couple of union victories to be optimistic about:

Arbitrator: Quinn must give pay raises [The Southern]
The arbitrator said Quinn’s breaking the contract with AFSCME was wrong and ordered the state to start paying the raises (with appropriate back pay) within 30 days. Quinn and the state are crying poverty in response and continue to insist that the state constitution prohibits spending money that hasn’t been allocated (which money for the raises were not). Not being a politician or intimately involved with the state budget, I don’t particularly have an inside track on where the money for raises is going to (or should) come from but I do know that the state (with Quinn as the state’s highest representative) shouldn’t violate contracts. The Southern has a quote from the arbitrator, Edwin Benn, in this case that seems awfully important:

“But Benn said if the state prevails on that argument, the idea that unions would agree to money-saving multiyear contracts is “probably dead” because unions won’t trust government bodies to live up to agreements down the road if budgets tighten.”

If Quinn is allowed to violate state contracts like this, it’s another step to the end of collective bargaining in Illinois.

Honeywell, union reach tentative deal [The Southern]
A tentative agreement has been reached between Honeywell and the union (but has not yet been ratified by members)! This doesn’t end the lockout but it’s a good sign. Let’s hope the rest of the talks go smoothly.

Athletics in the News (Again), Bargained Raises for State Employees

The Daily Egyptian seems to have caught on to the increases in athletic spending at SIUC and a report showed up in the sports section yesterday, including mentions of the 120 percent increase in spending and that 71 percent of the funding for Saluki Way comes from student fees and institutional support. My personal favorite bit is a quote from Mario Moccia, director of intercollegiate athletics:

“Here’s the catch. (New) facilities don’t guarantee winners,” Moccia said.  “The reality of it is (the project) had its time and place to be vetted.”

To me that reads as “This is happening whether we have good teams or bad teams and you all lost your chance to object.” Though, if I understand correctly, there actually was a lot of controversy, as this IBHE PDF compilation of various news reports about higher education from February 2006 when the decision was announced will show.

I’m personally wondering if new facilities also guarantee enrollment increases to go along with the tuition and fee increases. Given that enrollment has been dropping overall… I’m guessing not.

The Southern also has a news article today about the cancelled contractual raises for state employees: Pay raise issue could get legislative hearing next week. Essentially a legislative committee, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, which is empowered to act on all emergency rule changes filed by the governor and his agencies will be meeting to decide if the rule change the Governor requested so that he could cancel the bargained raises is valid. So the 30,000 or so employees the Governor broke contractual agreements with could potentially see relief if the committee stops his action.