CHICAGO - The University of Illinois United Faculty campaign, a partnership between the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors, recently gave the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board the amount of signed authorization cards necessary to form a union on the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) campus.
"UIC will have a union!" proclaims the campaign's website. It says they "comfortably exceeded the number of votes required."
Meanwhile, four unions representing 3,400 educators and workers at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale (SIUC) have issued a "notice of intent to strike," citing "disrespect" by school administrators' which led to an impasse in negotiations there. The SIUC Faculty Association, Non-Tenure Track Faculty Association, Graduate Assistants United, and Association of Civil Service Employees unions are participating.
This news comes mere weeks after SEIU Local 73 successfully negotiated a new contract for building maintenance and food service workers on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) campus.
The negotiations there dragged out until the very end of the workers' previous contract, after university administration deliberated for eight months over specifics hoping to break worker resolve. Strong support from the Graduate Employee's Organization and solidarity shown by students in the week before the contract was signed helped reach the agreement a day before workers would have been forced to strike.
The primary factor driving Illinois universities' faculty and staff to engage in collective bargaining struggles lies in certain university administrators' chosen method of dealing with budget shortfalls.
They have consistently mentioned the need for "sacrifice" in the face of budget cuts, but have chosen to direct most of that sacrifice towards students and workers rather than others close to them.
In the UIUC strike, it was mentioned that the university system hired new President Michael J. Hogan with a 37.5 percent raise ($170,000) over what the previous President had been paid while they were negotiating with SEIU. They also hired an executive assistant for the President with an 81 percent raise for that position.
At a round table discussion the Friday before the SEIU strike, a union organizer stated "While we were negotiating the President got a condo in Chicago, had all expenses paid for the house he lives in here in Urbana, a car, a driver, country club memberships, and more."
In response to this abuse of power, workers are increasingly demanding that the budget situation be solved democratically. They are choosing to use unions, which gives them the opportunity to be included in decision-making.
Workers note they're "finding their voice."
There is organizing taking place outside of the University of Illinois system too.
At Columbia College and Northeastern Illinois University, both in Chicago, faculty and students are fighting what they call "top-down management" by administrators.
At these universities, higher paid professors have seen their hours cut beyond what they would like while newer, adjunct professors have been buried with the remaining work. Stress has mounted and workers have turned to their union, the Part-time Faculty Association, an Illinois Education Association affiliate, for help.
Many grievances have been filed with the National Labor Relations Board over hour's management, and the union won the first last fall.
Still, workers are worried about retaining the quality of education at their university. The newer faculty are concerned they will not be able to give students the attention they need with the increased demands placed on them.
A strike is in consideration.
It will be several weeks before the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board is able to confirm the results of the vote at UIUC, and it appears faculty may have to endure months of deliberation before gaining representation, as university administration has sent a number of emails to staff indicating they might challenge the decision.
Meanwhile in Chicago, if faculty get the union that a majority of them voted for, UIC would be one of only a few tier 1 schools where faculty are represented by a union.