Non-Tenure-Track Faculty Launch Two-Day Strike At U Of I

April 19, 2016
Members of NTFC Local 6546 picket outside the University of Illinois English Building

Members of NTFC Local 6546 picket outside the University of Illinois English Building

Alejandra Reyes for Illinois Public Media

Members of the union representing non-tenure-track faculty at the University of Illinois went on strike Tuesday morning, launching a two-day work stoppage.  Union President Shawn Gilmore says  there's been a lot of support from solidarity partners, as Local #6546 seeks a greater voice for its members and longer contracts.

The union is trying to push the administration towards a quicker agreement on a first-ever contract for non-tenured faculty at the Urbana campus.

Gilmore hopes the two-day strike and picketing gives school administrators appreciation for non-tenured faculty.

“We would like at least a substantive response on how they plan to proceed at bargaining, which we are yet to hear anything from them about,” said Gilmore on Monday afternoon, when the strike was announced. “The communications we have gotten over the last week and a half have not been about bargaining. They have only been acknowledging our legal right to strike, which I mean we appreciate that they acknowledge that.“

The union is picketing at the English Building on the Main Quad. Video posted on the union’s Twitter feed shows a group in front of the building carrying signs with slogans such as “Solidarity with NTT’s” and “We’re not just your teachers, we’re your children’s teachers!” and chanting, “One, two three four, we won’t take it anymore! Five, six, seven, eight, Admin, negotiate!”

The NTFC is limiting its picket line just to the English Building. Gilmore says they’re asking their “solidarity partners” to honor the picket line, with the exception of those, like graduate employees, who are barred by their contract from striking. Gilmore says those who choose to cross the picket line will be allowed to do so.  

A mass e-mail to U of I students from Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson says they expect “most classes will be held during this strike.” But Wilson states that in cases where classes are taught by non-tenure track teachers who choose to strike, the department in charge might provide a substitute, combine sections of a course, move classes to a different building or cancel the class.

Wilson adds, “Please know we are committed to ensuring that you can make timely progress toward your degrees, meet your course objectives and receive your grades in a timely fashion.”

NTFC Local 6546 has been negotiating with the university administration on a first-ever contract for nearly 500 non-tenure-track faculty on the Urbana campus. Non-tenure-track faculty already have a contract on the U of I’s Chicago campus already have a contract.

UPDATE: In a later e-mail to the campus community Tuesday, administrators responded to some of the areas discussed in negotiations with NTFC Local 6546.  A letter signed by Interim Chancellor Wilson and Provost Edward Feser says the two sides have reached 14 tenative agreements, including on several key items. 

Gilmore says those items are mostly small.

“But if they want to use the word ‘key’ to cover those smaller provisions, that means that they think, I guess, that the outstanding ones, like multi-year contracts, promotion, evaluation, appointments, compensation, are not, in fact, key, because are all still outstanding," he said.

The administrators reiterate support for multi-year contracts, but say individual academic units are best positioned to award them, and saying they should be awarded based on performance, evaluation, and merit, and not "centrally mandated and automatically granted based on the amount of time someone has worked here."

Gilmore suggests U of I administrators could develop a contract based on one used at the U of I's Chicago campus, which is based primarily on seniority.  He says a contract for Urbana’s campus doesn’t have to be identical though.

“Since there is language there, we’ll repeatedly point to it as one that the (U of I's) Board of Trustees has signed as an applicable contract for non-tenured faculty," he said.  "This is not some weird, outside the realm of possibility thing that no one has ever gotten anyway.  Another campus system has this language.”

Gilmore says just 19 of his union’s roughly 500 members currently have multi-year contracts. 

"We strongly endorse academic freedom protections and a role in governance for specialized faculty members," the letter reads.  But the administrators say where they differ from the NTFC is in their belief that "robust shared governance - something we greatly wish to protect - is not served by bypassing our governance processes and legislating through a labor contract. Labor contracts are intended to address wages, hours and terms and conditions of employment."

Future negotiationing sessions with a federal mediator are scheduled for April 27, May 11, May 26, and June 26.

Story source: WILL