The University of Illinois at Chicago and a faculty union seeking to be recognized have been fighting over whether a single unit can represent both tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty (as the union wants) or whether separate unions are needed (as the university wants). The union is now proposing that the university recognize two unions, but that may not happen either -- at least right now. Last week, an Illinois appeals court ruled that state law bars a single union for the faculty groups. Throughout the dispute, the university has said it would not object to two unions, and on Tuesday the union proposed just that. It stated that it would not appeal the court ruling, but asked the university to "voluntarily" negotiate with two faculty unions -- even though the only official filing of petitions has been on behalf of a single union.
"We take this step because, like you, we are concerned about the deteriorating relations between the faculty and the administration. Although the appeal process so far has only worsened those relations, we recognize and applaud the board’s acknowledgement that there is a problem," says the letter from UIC United Faculty, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors. "In urging you to begin negotiations with us as two bargaining units, we are, of course, only asking you to do what you have consistently said you wanted to do..... We ourselves are not convinced that two separate units is the best way to foster a better relationship between the faculty and the administration but, like the administration, we are very eager to make that relationship better.... If you will join us -- on your terms -- at the bargaining table, the turnaround can begin today."
The university indicated, however, that it may insist on the two unions starting from scratch obtaining signatures on petitions. A spokesman said via e-mail: "As a general policy and practice, the university does not voluntarily recognize unions as 'exclusive representatives' for collective bargaining on behalf of groups of employees. Majority interest is determined either by the union prevailing in a secret ballot election, or by investigation and certification by the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board that the union has obtained authorization cards signed by a majority of employees in the bargaining unit."
Union leaders said that the university's response raised doubts about its earlier statements about being open to two unions. But the union has collected petitions for two unions and is prepared to go ahead one way or another, they said.