SIU-C Bracing For Potential Strike on Thursday
UPDATE: Tenure and tenure-track faculty at SIUC announced a strike late Wednesday night, after contract talks broke down. Meanwhile, three other unions on the Carbondale campus have reached tentative agreements.
A top administrator of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale says she's still hopeful negotiators can reach an agreement on a contract proposal that would avert a looming strike by the school's educators.
Rita Cheng said though the threat of a walkout is real, she remains confident that only a small percentage of faculty and staff will strike, and she said university operations will go on as usual.
"A far majority of our administration, who have been faculty for years, will step into the classroom and teach," Cheng said. "Other faculty across the campus, and retired faculty in the community, have already called and volunteered to cover for classes."
Members of four different bargaining units say they've been negotiating for more than a year for a new contract, and it's time to deal or walk out.
Several issues remain outstanding, involving money, tenure, distance education and job security.
SIU President Glenn Poshard said calls to tie faculty pay to increases in the university budget are not fair to those who pay for the hikes.
"If we're going to say, well let's talk about increases because of student tuition increases, and put aside the fact that the state has cut us drastically, then I guess we put the whole financial position of the university in the hands of the students from now on," Poshard said. "That's not what we want to do, and I don't believe that the faculty want to do this, either."
Poshard said administrators have worked hard to avoid financial exigency, as well as staff cuts and layoffs.
"We've done everything under the worst financial conditions of the state and of the university to avoid doing anything like that, and we haven't," he said.
With the threat of a strike looming on Thursday, the recently formed group known as Faculty for Sensible Negotiations began a signature drive on Monday.
The group wants to determine the faculty interest in retaining or replacing the Faculty Association as their exclusive bargaining unit.
FSN leader and SIU-C Zoology associate professor Mike Eichholz said he has been fed up with how faculty contracts are negotiated since he arrived at SIU-C in 2002.
Eichholz said the signature drive is meant to gauge whether faculty want to continue with the Faculty Association, replace it as a bargaining unit or decertify and negotiate contracts individually.
"You know, we'd like to see an approach where we'd try to work hand-in-hand with the administration to make the university better, instead of an approach where it seems it's an 'us-or-them' approach," Eichholz said. "You know, some of the demands, to me, just don't seem to be appropriate."
He said the group would prefer all the cards be returned by Friday, but will accept any turned in after that date. He also said he thinks there must be an alternative to the current contract negotiation structure.
"It seems like every time there's a contract negotiation, we end up to the point where there are threats of a strike, a tremendous amount of negative publicity for the university," Eichholz said. "It seems like this time, at first the rhetoric wasn't quite as bad but over the last couple of months it's clearly gotten worse to the point where there's likely going to be a strike - which I think is extremely unfortunate."
Cheng said while it's still unclear what effect the labor strife will have, there will be repercussions for the university.
"This is not where we'd like to be at this time," she said. "We'd like to have positive press, we'd like to be moving forward with our positive messages for our prospective students, and we're getting, instead, this type of coverage on the news.