Faculty union at Univ. of Illinois ends strike; contract vote May 5

After 19 months of negotiations, and a five day strike cut short, the faculty union at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign-called the Non Tenured Faculty Coalition (NTFC)– and the administration tentatively agreed on a contract Saturday evening. For many of the non-tenured faculty, the long fought battle has finally proven to be victorious, as educators resumed class on Monday.

The bargaining sessions that took place between faculty and the administration began as far back as October of 2014. Conrad Bowling – a Federal mediator- was brought in for at least three of those sessions to help negotiate terms. Additionally, Kay Emmert, a lecturer in the English department, acted as one of the lead voices on behalf of the NTFC Local 6546, while Leslie Arvan, the Director of Labor and Employment Relations, led for the administration.

The union’s original demands were based on the contractual rights that were established for the non-tenured faculty at the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC), which operates within the same university system. It included multi-year contracts, merit reviews, with clear appointment and reappointment procedures and guidelines, as well as shared governance. These stipulations were initially met with defiance from the administration, as discussion over the contract details remained disputed. At one point, according to the union, the faculty was told that the university was “not interested in changing” the terms of their employment. In several cases the administration accused the union of launching an online smear campaign against Interim Chancellor Wilson and Interim Provost Feser to try to coerce negotiations.  It was reported that Ed Feser’s email and inbox remained overflowed with messages from supporting students and faculty.

It was this buildup of tension that led to the eventual strike by the NTFC Local 6546. Once protest began, however, the administration sent out a mass email addressing the need to amend the ongoing situation. Wilson and Feser stated April 18th that they were vigorously working on a settling a fair contract and that they regretted the “disruption” that a work stoppage would cause the student body.

Following these events, students and faculty were finally able to breathe a sigh of relief Saturday afternoon as union members voted to suspend their five-day strike and to move forward with ratification. The Campus Faculty Association publicly posted on Facebook announcing that they had reached a tentative agreement. An official vote of the membership to ratify the very first contract will be held Thursday May 5th. “We’re proud of the work we have done,” the NTFC said in a statement, “but we are overwhelmed by the love and support we’ve gotten from our brothers and sisters in the labor movement and in the community.”

NTFC president Shawn Gilmore also spoke to People’s World in general terms about the final contract, saying “the contract has been warmly received by the membership thus far, and the specific language of the tentative agreement will be available to our members throughout the week, before a ratification vote on Thursday.” The union was able to get language that addresses its top concerns, as well as a raise in the salary floor for non-tenure-track faculty that will go into effect in the the coming years. Gilmore noted, that the new terms “will serve to stabilize many of our members’ lives and represents a real commitment to the quality and duration of these faculty members’ service. It is a very good first contract, and one that we can build on going forward.”

While the tentative new contract represents a victory for the NTFC, the finalized ratification vote remains scheduled for Thursday. Regardless, the strike has certainly raised more awareness about the needs of the non-tenured faculty to the general campus population. At the end of a long fought bargaining process the union stands tall, despite all the odds originally stacked against them.

Photo: Michelle Zacarias/PW

Ed. note: This article was updated at 2:52 Central Time, May 3, 2016.


Michelle Zacarias
Michelle Zacarias

Michelle Zacarias was a staff writer at People's World. A graduate of the Univ. of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Zacarias invested her time in raising awareness on issues of social justice and equality. Michelle self identifies as multi-marginalized: as a Latina, a woman of color and a person with disabilities.