Ending an Impasse in Illinois

Faculty members vote to end strike that had been prompted by disputes over health care costs.

September 22, 2015

The faculty union at Rock Valley College voted Monday night to end a strike that started last week, and to accept a compromise contract proposed by a federal mediator.

Classes will resume today at the Illinois community college. Details of the new contract will be released after a meeting tonight, when the college's board is expected to formally approve the contract.

“We are ready to get back to our classrooms and return to the work we love,” said a statement from Michael Youngblood, an economics professor and president of the Rock Valley College Faculty Association, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers.

The strike was called over a series of issues, but primarily over health care costs.

In a seven-minute YouTube video, a life sciences professor, Rebecca Maas, outlined in a series of graphs, charts and monotone voiceover how the higher health care charges to employees proposed by the college could negate the also-proposed salary bump. The video was prepared before the settlement.

In an interview Monday, while the strike was still on, Frank Haney, board chair, said, “The state of Illinois does not have a budget … [and] the Rockford region was first in, hardest hit and last out of the recession.” He added: “We have to balance and be realistic about our state difficulties …. We believe we are offering a competitive health care plan, and we are offering a competitive salary package to our faculty.”

That salary offer rose by roughly $350,000 in the latest proposal, bringing the total to about $4.1 million over five years or more than $1,000 per instructor in the first two years, and more than $2,500 by year five. But the union rejected it Sunday evening in large part because, union officials say, the higher faculty insurance contributions effectively neutralize any gains in salary.

After agreeing to pay freezes and cuts during the last round of negotiations, “this time we decided we wanted to see some kind of raise,” said George Hernandez, a psychology professor at Rock Valley who helped coordinate the strike effort. Higher premiums, deductibles and an added requirement that spouses use their own insurance from work if they have it, would significantly reduce, and in some cases nullify or reverse, the “modest raises,” he said. “We’re worried that our pay is already really low compared to other colleges in the area and any new faculty member coming in will lose money.”

“We really didn't have problems with most of the language,” Hernandez said about the recently rejected proposal. “It came down to benefits and salary structure …. We're looking for more money in the contract but not because we're greedy, selfish people. We're asking for modest raises in the first years of the contract to help younger faculty with families.”

Despite several days free of class, “the students are not happy,” said Zander Day, student representative to the board, in an interview before the strike was settled. “Many seem to be in favor of the faculty, but are also misinformed. When the strike started, several students flooded my inbox with criticism and numbers that were just not based off of facts. This frustrated me because that indicates that professors have been filling their minds with false information for quite some time.”

Federal Stafford loan disbursements could have been delayed if the strike continued past Wednesday, and more financial aid -- including Pell Grant checks -- could have been suspended if the strike had been a long one.


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