25 May Judge Recommends Including Bridge to Faculty Scholars in Union!
- Welcome to the newest UICUF members: In March 2022, 75% of the B2F members signed a petition to join our union. Last week, an administrative law judge recommended including B2Fs in the NTT unit. This puts the end in sight for a nearly two years-long effort to secure union protections for Bridge to Faculty.
- Labor board to finalize decision June 15: The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board will meet on June 15 and will likely make a final decision based on the judge’s recommendation at that time.
The Bridge to Faculty (B2F) program offers two-year post-doctoral (or post-terminal degree) positions to underrepresented scholars with an expectation that they will join the tenure-track faculty at the end of their post-doc. The B2F program is arguably the foundation for attempts to recruit a more diverse faculty at UIC–one of the most serious issues facing the faculty, and indeed university as a whole.
Almost two years ago, a new UIC faculty member in the first cohort of B2F scholars attempted to join UICUF, the union that her offer letter said she could be a part of. To her, and our, surprise, HR refused to process her membership, saying she was not in the union’s bargaining unit after all. This initiated a fight to ensure union representation for Bridge to Faculty scholars that included a grievance, a bargaining unit clarification petition, and finally a majority interest petition in which 75% of B2Fs signed union cards and petitioned to join UICUF’s non-tenure track bargaining unit. This petition eventually went to a legal hearing in which various faculty and B2Fs testified to demonstrate the wide range of work NTT faculty do and the appropriateness of including B2Fs in that category. The University took a page from the playbook of the typical union buster, arguing that the B2Fs could only be represented in a much larger (and harder to organize) unit of all postdoctoral research associates.
On Thursday, May 19, the judge who presided over the hearing issued a recommendation to accept the petition, finally allowing B2Fs to unionize. The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board will make a final decision based on this recommendation when they meet on June 15. UIC administration, despite the Administrative Law Judge’s well-reasoned recommendation, plans to appeal. UICUF will submit a response to the appeal when the administration actually files it, and the Board will consider the appeal and response in making their final decision.
The University administration has been inexplicably intransigent regarding B2F unionization, resisting informal resolution or settlement at various stages. Indeed, at times the university lawyers have wandered into genuinely insulting territory, suggesting that the highly accomplished scholars in the B2F program are unqualified to be faculty. Through all of this, the B2F scholars have remained admirably committed to advocating for themselves and each other, despite the precarity of their positions.
As B2F scholar Ash Stephens from the Department of Criminology, Law, and Justice explains, “As a postdoctoral scholar/researcher, being a part of UIC United Faculty is crucial to my livelihood. Being a member of UICUF would allow all B2F scholars labor protections and the ability to build collective power. I see unions as a place where many of the inequities of race, class, disability, gender, and other social positions of marginalization are prioritized when we discuss how they intersect with work and labor. It puts all B2F scholars in vulnerable positions to have our work unprotected.”
Despite the administration’s commitment to fighting the basic rights of B2F scholars, we at UICUF are excited to welcome the first cohort of B2Fs to the tenure track this fall and to welcome the rest into official membership in the non-tenure track bargaining unit once the labor board meets. The victory is important not only to the people who constitute the Bridge to Faculty program, but also as a clear message to administration that fair treatment and respect for Black and Brown scholars must be a part of their efforts to diversify UIC faculty.