Posted at 19:33h
UICUF and allies from UIC Unions United make our concerns known at a meeting of the U of I Board of Trustees
A Year of Challenges
2018 was a year of challenges for UIC United Faculty, and indeed, unions around the United States. From dealing with the Janus decision in the US Supreme Court, to engaging U of I Administration in what’s turned out to be a very contentious contract bargaining process, there has been plenty to keep our union members on their toes. We can, however, proudly say that we’ve tackled all of these challenges head-on, preparing for the worst, handling the bumps in the road as they came, and in many cases turning potential pitfalls into opportunities. While UICUF began 2018 with many uncertainties on the horizon, we ended the year stronger than ever.
The Janus Decision
Anticipating an anti-union ruling in Janus v AFSCME last spring, we chose to act, rather than wait for the axe to fall. Over the first six months of 2018, UICUF staff and member volunteers embarked on a campaign to meet with as many members as possible. By the time the Janus ruling did arrive in late June, we had met with more than 2/3rds of our members, virtually all of whom signed recommitment cards signalling their ongoing support, regardless of the changing legal environment. Thanks in no small part to member engagement, we experienced virtually no negative membership impact from Janus, and in fact, our membership has only grown since then — a trend that shows no sign of reversing.
U of I Tests the Boundaries and UIC Unions Unite
Just because we were well prepared for the Janus decision does not mean the event passed without incident. In the immediate aftermath of the decision, we found that UIC Payroll, and U of I Labor Relations had chosen to ignore months of meetings and advanced notices meant to keep their records of dues payers updated and accurate. Instead of acknowledging our updated lists and valid membership cards, they chose to arbitrarily end dues for 145 confirmed faculty union members, not fully restoring their dues status for nearly 2 months. Others were hit much worse than we were though, and this is how UIC Unions United was formed.
UIC has many unions involved on campus, but UICUF, UIC GEO, SEIU, and INA are some of the largest, representing over 8,000 workers. All of them realized after the Janus decision, that if we didn’t work together, Administration would simply continue to use the ruling as an excuse to pursue a broader union-busting agenda. Together, we formed a coalition, UIC Unions United, to push back on this agenda. Since then, we’ve demonstrated our strength through a number of actions, including a march on the Labor Relations office, a demonstration at the Board of Trustees meeting in November, and several pickets, to show that we won’t accept unilateral moves by the Administration to disenfranchise our members, or rewrite the terms of our contracts on their own say-so.
Since forming the coalition, the vast majority of members that UIC had cut from the rolls have been restored, though the university administration has done nothing to compensate the unions for these costly “errors.” More alarmingly, they still maintain that they have the right to revoke memberships at their own discretion without so much as informing the union. Every member organization of the coalition is now in the process of filing Unfair Labor Practices and/or grievances against the administration over these claims. We’re sure to see more of this play out in 2019. Regardless of the outcome, we all agree we are much stronger for having come together, even if it took difficult circumstances to galvanize us.
UICUF’s contract was set to expire in August of 2018. Long in advance of that date, we had convened a group of faculty from nearly every college at UIC to prepare for contract bargaining. In the fall of 2017, we polled faculty to learn what they felt were the most pressing issues of the day, and planned for months on how to turn the results into proposals that could make it into a final contract. In May, the Bargaining Committee presented a demand to bargain, and in June, contract negotiations began in earnest. Or at least they appeared to.
What we quickly learned was that the negotiator assigned by U of I Administration had no interest in discussing, well, much of anything really. We presented our non-economic issues first. While there was feedback and even requests for re-writes, few counter-proposals were offered. At the same time, they held back campus wage pools, falsely claiming that it was the union’s fault. To be clear, if they truly wished to give out raises, labor law offers several commonly accepted avenues to do so, with the unions permission, which would have been given if sought. They chose not seek that permission, or even bring up the issue in negotiations beforehand, depriving us the opportunity to proactively offer it.
Since June, we’ve faithfully returned to the bargaining table, despite the growing evidence that the administration does not seem interested in negotiating, so much as dictating terms. Thus, we ended 2018’s bargaining sessions with dozens of faculty in the room, while members testified as to their disappointment in Administration’s disingenuous tactics, and the time wasted while they try to avoid serious negotiations. Discussion became heated, but we did conclude with a note of hope for 2019. When next we meet, we expect U of I’s negotiating team to honor their verbal commitment to return with written counterproposals for at least one of our proposed articles. It’s not much, but even incremental improvements are worth pursuing at this stage. With each effort that fails to bring us closer to a viable contract, tensions between the union and the administration will only rise. While we hope Administration will return to the table in 2019 willing to take seriously our full set of proposals, we are also anticipating the need to significantly increase our visibility beyond the bargaining table.
A New Year Ahead
2018 brought many challenges before the union, some of which are yet ongoing. 2019 is likely to bring more still, but we are ready to rise to the occasion, thanks to the support of our dedicated members and activists, and our allies on and off campus. We do not yet have new bargaining dates set, but we do know that the U of I Board of Trustees will return to Chicago for a meeting on January 31st. We will continue to keep you informed of every opportunity for you to represent yourselves and your colleagues under the union banner.
Until we win a fair contract, we will be issuing periodic updates via email, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and here on our website. We strongly encourage everyone to like and follow us on social media. With your support, we can make UIC an even better place to work and learn!