U. of Illinois at Chicago Faculty Strike for First Contract
February 19, 2014

After 18 months of trying to negotiate their first union contract, faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago moved forward on Tuesday with a planned, two-day strike. Hundreds of classes were not held Tuesday as a result of the strike, The Chicago Tribune reported.

Joe Persky, professor of economics and president of the United Faculty, an American Federation of Teachers- and American Association of University Professors-affiliated union representing both tenure-line and, full-time, non-tenure-track faculty, said the strike was a last resort to which the union had been “pushed” by the university. Major unresolved issues for the union include a proposed $45,000 baseline salary for full-time, non-tenure track lecturers, many of whom teach large, first-year courses, Persky said. “We’ve got lecturers here making $30,000 a year, and they’re filling up classes with $300,000 worth of students. There’s something wrong there.” The union also wants various “blanks” in the contract, such as those for future merit raise pools, filled in with real dollar amounts, and a 4.5 percent pay increase starting next year.

In an email, a university spokesman said the union also wants payment for out-of-pocket insurance costs and special allocations to address salary compression -- when longer-serving professors are paid similarly to newer peers because raises haven’t kept up with the outside market. He said the estimated cost of those proposals, including the $45,000 base salary for lecturers, would equal a hefty, approximately 25 percent personnel cost jump to the university, over four years. A side-by-side university chart comparing the its and the union’s bargaining positions, including their costs, is available here.

“The university believes that a work stoppage or strike is not in the best interest of the faculty, the university, or our students; however, we acknowledge the faculty’s right to strike under Illinois labor law,” reads a university statement on the strike. Despite offering a “fair” contract already, the university said it will continue to bargain with the union until an agreement is reached. Additional negotiating sessions have been scheduled through March; the next is on Friday. Persky said he was confident that the strike, which shut down classes and was accompanied by on-campus rallies and picketing by professors and students, would help the union’s cause.

“Everything has changed,” he said. “We’ve shown them what we can do.”

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