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Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost Message 4/17/12

Faculty Unionization: Frequently Asked Questions

Q.  Do faculty members have the right to vote in an election before a union is certified?

A:  Not necessarily. Illinois law allows for certification of a union through either an election or by a "card check" procedure whereby a union demonstrates to the Labor Board that it has a "majority interest" of employees in the proposed bargaining unit. Such majority interest may be shown by the union producing dues deduction authorization forms or similar documents signed by a majority of employees in the proposed bargaining unit. A secret ballot election could also be conducted by the labor board based on submission by the union of cards signed by at least 30 percent of the proposed bargaining unit. Last spring, when the union filed for representation, it did so via the “card check” system, not an election.

Q.  Are faculty "voting" for a union if they sign union authorization cards?

A:  Yes, if a union chooses to submit such cards as proof of support for the certification of a union without an election. Illinois law permits unions to be certified by the Labor Board based on verification that more than 50 percent of bargaining unit members have signed such union authorization cards.

Q.  What if a faculty member misunderstood or wishes to revoke a union authorization card he/she previously signed?

A:  Employees who have questions about this should contact the Public Information Officer of the Educational Labor Relations Board (312-793-3170). Based on our understanding of the law, employees can revoke cards by notifying the union in writing of their decision to revoke their cards and request that the cards be returned to them. If employees decide to revoke and withdraw their cards, it should be done before any representation petition is filed with the Labor Board. If such a written revocation and request is submitted to the union, employees should sign and date the request and keep a copy for their records.

Q. Union organizers have asserted that unionizing will give faculty more of a voice in university governance. Is this accurate?

A. Assertions that forming a union will improve the faculty’s role in shared governance are inaccurate. The subjects of collective bargaining are wages, hours and working conditions – not shared governance, educational policies or program initiatives. Per the University Statutes, faculty governance is exercised through the UIC Senate and the U of I Senates Conference. Union negotiators would meet with designated university labor officials to bargain about wages, hours and conditions of employment for members of the bargaining unit. Employers are not required to negotiate over matters of inherent managerial policy, including budget, organizational structure, and selection and direction of employees.

Q.   Which Illinois public universities currently have unions representing faculty for collective bargaining purposes?

A.  According to an American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin website, the universities in Illinois with unions representing faculty include Chicago State, Eastern Illinois, Governors' State, Northern Illinois, Northeastern Illinois and Southern Illinois - Carbondale. It should be noted that the average faculty salaries at all of these universities are lower than the average faculty salaries at UIC. Very few top research universities in this country have bargaining representatives for their tenure-system faculty.

Q. Is UIC opposed to unions?

A. No. This campus has had labor contracts with unions for decades. We maintain good relations with many different employee unions. We currently have 19 bargaining units on campus – Civil Service employees represented by various labor unions, and the teaching and graduate assistants represented by the GEO, affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers/Illinois Federation of Teachers (AFT/IFT). If tenure-system and/or contingent faculty select a union, we will of course fulfill bargaining obligations as we do with all of the other unions we work with and make every effort for a collegial, constructive relationship.

Q. What are the costs to faculty if a union is certified to represent them?

A. When a collective bargaining contract is negotiated, each faculty member would likely have to pay union dues or "fair share" fees for the services to be provided by the union. Illinois law permits negotiation of "fair share" clauses, which require employees to pay the equivalent of union dues for the cost of services rendered by the union. If union dues are set at 2% of gross salary, a faculty member earning $80,000 would be paying $1,600 annually to the union. An 800-member bargaining unit at UIC could produce more than $1,000,000 annually for the IFT.

Q. If a union is certified, would faculty still be able to negotiate pay and other monetary commitments with their department heads?

A. Department heads and other administrators would no longer be allowed to deal directly with faculty on matters of pay, benefits and working conditions. Instead, discussions concerning pay, benefits and working conditions would be handled through negotiations between university labor relations officials and faculty union representatives. Unions are the “exclusive representative” for bargaining unit employees, and represent everyone in the bargaining unit collectively. This precludes individual faculty members from negotiating individual pay arrangements with their colleges/deans that take into account their unique circumstances. University labor relations representatives must present proposals to, and secure the agreement of, union officials before altering wages, hours and terms and conditions of employment for anyone in the bargaining unit.

Q.  Does the law preclude faculty in east and west side colleges from being in the same bargaining unit?

A:  Under Illinois law, Medical, Dentistry and Pharmacy faculty must have separate bargaining units from other faculty.

Q.  Would collective bargaining help protect faculty's current pension rights?

A:  Benefits under the State Universities Retirement System are actually set by State Statute and are not subjects of negotiations in any of the university's collective bargaining contracts. The university would have no authority to negotiate alternations or guarantees concerning the statutory pension plan. It should also be noted that unions actually represented a large number of faculty and staff at Illinois public universities during periods when the problems with pensions have worsened. This is not to suggest that unions are to blame, but they are only one of many constituencies who will have a role in crafting and approving a solution to the current problems.

Q.  If a union calls for a strike, must all bargaining unit members participate?

A:  No, but strikes and other union concerted activities may disrupt instruction and other activities, and participants could be subject to loss of pay. Under Illinois law, faculty who are in a bargaining unit at a public university have the right to strike. Strikes, whereby employees withhold services (and lose pay), are a union’s ultimate method of exerting pressure on management to accept its demands. 

Q. Would chairs and heads of departments be included in a faculty bargaining unit?

A: No. The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act excludes supervisory, managerial and confidential employees from the definition of educational employees who are eligible to collectively bargain. It is the position of the university that chairs and heads would be excluded from any faculty bargaining unit because they exercise supervisory, managerial and confidential job responsibilities.

Q. Are departments required to allow unions to solicit faculty in university facilities or speak at departmental meetings?

A:  No. This does not preclude making space available for meetings involving union officials in the same manner as any other requests for meeting rooms for non-departmental activities or purposes. Please note that union officials are not allowed to disrupt or interfere with faculty performing their normal work activities.

Q. Who does the IFT currently represent and how are they governed?

A. The Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT) is a labor union that represents employees primarily in K-12 school systems. The IFT is made up of more than 200 local unions throughout Illinois. The IFT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

The IFT is governed by elected leaders, including a president, executive vice president, secretary-treasurer and 40 vice presidents. K-12 union locals dominate the IFT leadership. The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) is the largest IFT local.


Older Messages from the Provost Regarding Faculty Unionization Efforts