05 Dec Building Bargaining POWER
Power in Context
Monday was a significant day in our campaign to gain a fair contract offer from U of I Administration, but not because they’ve given significant ground. No, the import of Monday’s activities, including the bargaining session itself, and the mass demonstration that immediately preceded it, is all about context rather than content.
Power in the Streets
UICUF and UIC GEO, both currently involved in contentious negotiations with U of I Administration, started the day off with a massive informational picket. Well over 100 members of both unions showed up despite inclement weather, and marched outside of Student Center East, chanting their demands for a #FairContractNow. Picketers continued chanting, reminding Administration as bargaining began, that “We Will Be Back!” even as 30 or so faculty peeled off to observe the session itself.
This action built off of the success of our demonstration at the U of I Board of Trustees meeting last month, and earlier marches on the boss decrying union busting tactics over the summer. It was one of our largest actions to date, and we intend to continue gathering strength and taking actions like this one until a fair contract has been signed.
Power in the Meeting Rooms
Faculty and Grads have not only been flying signs and chanting slogans. Union buttons and blues are becoming a more common sight in board and meeting rooms across the university. This trend was perfectly exemplified by the dozens of Faculty Senators wearing union colors in last week’s Senate meeting, showing solidarity with the bargaining effort.
Dozens more have shown up to each of our bargaining sessions as well. They’ve had the chance to observe first hand the way that U of I negotiators equivocate, prevaricate, and demand revisions to our proposals, only to leave those proposals entirely unacknowledged in their own counters. In fact, over the last 4 sessions during which we’ve invited faculty members to observe, we’ve had over 100 individuals take us up on the opportunity, and from the sound of it, they don’t much like what they’ve seen.
In this last bargaining session, Lisa Stolley, an English Lecturer, volunteered with testimony regarding U of I’s lackluster salary proposals thus far, speaking passionately on the need for respectable professional wages for NTT faculty:
“The amount I am paid is not commensurate with what I do for UIC,” she explained. “It is clear that UIC is investing in self-improvement. Buildings are going up at warp speed, and there will soon be a UIC affiliated law school. UIC is seeking to boost its reputation as a top rate research university, yet is unwilling to invest in what is, without question, one of its greatest assets – non-tenure track faculty… What is the justification for staffing hundreds of UIC classrooms with accomplished, graduate-degreed people, but refusing to pay them a salary that can sustain a modest standard of financial wellbeing?”
Lisa’s story resonates with many faculty. Even those who have tenure positions resoundingly indicated through union surveys their non-tenure track colleagues deserve much more for their contributions to the university, amid calls for a stronger salary program in general.
Power Responds to Power
In our latest session, as in so many sessions before, the U of I negotiating team has indicated broadly that they are unwilling to give serious consideration to most of our proposals. However, we’ve noted some curious behavior since the session prior. For starters, they came to the table this time, recanting their last salary proposal before we even had a chance to ask questions, or make a counter offer. They unilaterally replaced it with a slightly improved offer, though even the new offer is still completely insufficient. Noting the picketers outside the building at the time, we do not think they simply had a change of heart, deciding to become more generous overnight.
We’ve also heard reports that administrators are speaking in department meetings about the negotiations, asserting that the union is dragging its feet, holding back a potential agreement. Perhaps from administration’s perspective, that is so. After all, we’ve consistently reminded them that we’re not agreeing to an objective pay cut for the majority of our members. We’ve rejected their blanket abdication of responsibility from addressing the myriad other issues on the table. We’ve insisted on them discussing our proposals, and treating the bargaining process and by extension, our membership, with respect.
If holding out over basic principles, like maintaining a professional standard of living for all faculty, and making real progress on working conditions, means we are dragging our feet, then perhaps we should dig in our heels a little more firmly. It’s clear that Administration is taking notice, after all, and that is the clearest signal of all that mounting pressure is having an effect.
Power Grows With Participation
As we all know, union power in negotiations isn’t about having the best arguments, the moral high ground, or the most objectively logical proposals. It is about the participation of union members, and their willingness to fight for what they deserve. Bargaining will resume on Monday, 12/17/18, 1-4pm, at Student Center East, White Oak Room. We hope to have even more members there than we have so far. Further, member testimony has been a powerful inspiration for faculty members, and clearly gives our Administration counterparts pause when as they continue trying to brush off our negotiating positions.
UIC United Faculty’s strength is only growing, and we show that strength every time we arrive at the bargaining table with a large team behind us. If you are able to attend bargaining on the 17th, or are willing to speak on any subject under consideration at the table, please email UICUFJeff@gmail.com.
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