It's cold and rainy today, but that hasn't deterred the University of Illinois Springfield faculty from the picket line. Tenured and tenure-track professors seeking a contract are in the third day of a strike. But there may be signs of progress.
For months, university administrators have limited comments regarding faculty contract negotiations to brief written statements issued by a spokesperson. Today, however, Chancellor Susan Koch agreed to answer questions.
"We're ready to get this settled,” she said. “I mean, I don't want to set up some kind of a false deadline, but I just have a sense that people really would like to get this settled. Certainly the university would like to get this settled."
They've been in negotiations for almost two years, and say the main sticking points are the retention and promotion policies, not salaries. Koch, though, acknowledges that UIS faculty are paid less than professors at peer institutions.
"So we have put what I think is a robust salary package in front of the union leadership despite the fact that these are very, very difficult budget times,” she says. “And you know, we're anxious to hear back from them what they think about what we're offering."
Koch said her negotiating team has offered to be at the bargaining table all day tomorrow and through the weekend, in hopes of settling the contract talks soon.
Students are scheduled to take final exams next week.
On why the administration couldn’t accept United Faculty’s offer to return to the bargaining table sooner than Friday:
“There are actually three parties that are involved with these negotiations, the third one being the federal mediators. And you know, we’d love to be meeting every day, but the mediators have other mediations they’re doing as well and they weren’t available. Our next regularly-scheduled mediation is tomorrow [Friday]. Now, we were able to move that up. It was scheduled earlier to start at 1 p.m., and now we’ll be starting at 9 a.m. So that’s going to give us additional time. But we’re really anxious to get back to the bargaining table. I think everyone is.”
On the timing of the strike, during preparation for finals week:
“It would be really best for everyone if we could bring this strike to an end, and we’re really hopeful that we can do that as soon as possible.”
On the impact this strike is having on UIS students:
“Tenure-earning faculty do teach a majority of the classes, so a strike by tenure-earning faculty does have the potential to affect a lot of courses.”
On why parties have been negotiating for almost two years:
“This is the very first union contract. The first union contract is always the toughest one to do. You’re writing it together word-by-word, and there is no doubt it is a test of everyone’s patience on all sides. We’ve been working with federal mediators since August, and that has been helpful … We’re even offering to work through the weekend if that would be helpful. This has gone on a long time; that’s one of those many things we all agree on. I can’t agree that there has been foot-dragging. From the very beginning of these negotiations, I have been directing the administrative negotiating team to negotiate in good faith. They have been doing that. There’s a lot of learning that goes on, on both sides, and that’s part of the process because it’s the first one.”
On why negotiation schedules are being accelerated now:
“You know, there’s certainly a sense of urgency now that maybe might not have been there a year ago. … We’re ready to get a settlement…. And I don’t mean to express an overly-optimistic view. This is hard. This is difficult. And it’s going to require give-and-take and negotiation. That’s what this is all about. But we’ll be going into that meeting tomorrow with great good faith.”