Mission Statement

The purpose of this blog is to deconstruct the rhetoric and strategies of faculty union advocates at the University of Illinois. A consequential decision like this must be based on facts, not spin. Right now only one side of the argument is being presented to faculty. This blog represents the other side of the argument.

Friday, January 24, 2014


Is there already a faculty union on campus?

No. The Campus Faculty Association sometimes calls itself a union, but there is a legal process for establishing a union and that has not yet taken place.

What would a faculty union look like?

According to the CFA’s campaign, a faculty union would be a local branch of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, affiliated with the national American Federation of Teachers, and part of the AFL-CIO. These unions represent public school teachers and many other state employees, and not only faculty.

How would collective bargaining work?

On campuses where members of the faculty are unionized, all details of employment related to wages, hours, or working conditions must be negotiated by representatives of the institution's administration with representatives of the labor unions, often including representatives of the state union who are not part of the campus. The resulting agreement must be codified in a written contract, which applies uniformly to all members of the bargaining unit. On campuses where faculty are unionized, these contracts typically are valid for about 3 years. When the contract period is up, every detail of the contract must be renegotiated.

Who is in the bargaining unit?

A bargaining unit is the group of individuals who the union is legally empowered to represent in all decisions regarding their wages, hours, or working conditions. Under collective bargaining, the union is the exclusive representative for decisions about these matters. On our campus, the bargaining unit would be all tenure-track faculty members in all departments except those in the Colleges of Veterinary Medicine and Law.

What is included under wages, hours, and working conditions?

This term has been interpreted differently by different faculty unions. Currently, representatives of the faculty union at our sister campus in Chicago are asking that issues such as tenure and promotion decisions and class size be negotiated contractually. Union advocates on this campus also take an expansive view, saying that they would take up academic issues such as admissions policies and online education, which are already firmly under the control of faculty, according to the University Statutes. Adding issues outside of wages and working conditions complicates the negotiations and encroaches on the statutory rights of the senate and other governance bodies.

Why are people coming to my office? Do I have to speak to them?

Union organizers who stop by your office are there with the explicit goal of persuading you to sign a statement demonstrating support for faculty unionization. You are under no obligation to speak with them at all. The AAUP manual for faculty union organizers encourages them to repeat these office visits if the first visit does not result in a signature. If you sign a statement simply in order to avoid these repeat visits, your signature will still be used as an indication of support for faculty unionization.

What is a “card campaign”?

At some point, union organizers may come back again to ask you to sign a union card. Having signed a “statement of principles” does not in any way obligate you to sign the card. Signing a union card is a legally binding decision. It means not only that you want to be in a union yourself. It means that you agree to require that everyone in the campus bargaining unit must be represented by the union in decisions about wages, hours, and working conditions, whether they want to be or not; and that, if the union chooses, they can require everyone in the campus bargaining unit to pay partial (or so-called "fair share") dues to the union even if they don’t want to be union members.

Can a card be withdrawn, once it is signed?

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, the request must be made before any representation petition is filed with the state 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.

More information here on how to revoke your signature on a statement or authorization card.
Can tenure-track and non-tenure track faculty votes be combined to achieve a voting majority? 

No. In March 2012 an Illinois appeals court ruled that the UIC faculty union campaign could not combine both categories of faculty in a union vote, but had to collect their votes separately and achieve a majority of each. 

What are “fair share” dues?

There are two levels of dues. (1) Faculty who want to be full voting members of the union will have to pay dues, set at a percentage of annual salary. That level will not be known until a contract is negotiated, but could be upwards of 1% of your annual salary. Unless you pay those dues, you will have no say in union decisions or policy. (2) Union organizers say that all faculty outside the two colleges mentioned will have to pay at least “fair share” dues, at a lower level, without the rights of union membership. However, state labor law (115 ILCS 5/11) says that a union may, not must require fair share dues.

What would my dues be used for?

The CFA says that dues will “go to the local, state and national affiliates to fund the union office and staff, lobbying, union-related campaigns, policy research, member education, legal costs to represent members, and research for negotiation and enforcement of the contract.” A substantial part of your dues will go to the state and national unions, not for campus purposes.

Are there alternatives to a card campaign as a way of forming a union?

Yes. According to Illinois labor law, organizers could hold an open, public election about whether to unionize or not. This would allow all affected faculty to have a vote on the issue. Union organizers have chosen not to go this route, preferring private office visits in which people are not presented with both sides of the issue.

Why not try out a union for a while and see if it makes a difference?

Establishing a union is not a trial experiment that can be tried out for a while and then reversed if faculty don’t like the results. State labor law makes it very difficult to disestablish a union once it is formed. Nationally there has only been one recent instance (Montana State) where an attempt to decertify a union was successful. Union advocates will fight just as hard to prevent that as they are fighting now to establish a union.

Will a union help increase my salary?

Cary Nelson, former President of AAUP and a strong faculty union advocate on our campus, says: “[R]esearch shows that, although unionized community college faculty earn more than their nonunionized counterparts, full-time unionized and non-unionized faculty at 4-year institutions earn about the same.” (“What Unions Do”). Once you consider that union dues will likely be at least 1% to 1.5% of gross salary, it seems unlikely that establishing a union on our campus will result in net pay raises for most faculty, over the current salary review process. The campus has averaged 4% salary increases for each of the last three years, without a union – and without union dues.

What will happen to merit pay?

None of this will be known until a contract is settled, but the usual union salary model is a pool for across-the-board raises and a smaller set aside fund for merit raises, retention offers, etc. Union organizers say that merit raises will continue, but the pool of money that department heads and other administrators will have available to make these offers or to negotiate with individual faculty will be reduced. Depending on the contract, in some union agreements a union representative has to be present at any such meetings.

Will a faculty union help protect our pensions?

No one can predict how the politics of pensions will play out, but the current pension bill was passed despite aggressive union opposition. It is not clear how much influence unions will have on the process moving forward. The current lawsuits challenging the pension bill will have both union and non-union plaintiffs. But the final legal decisions made by the courts on pensions will not be affected at all by whether this campus has a union or not.

Do we need a faculty union to lobby for us?

Right now the university has state and national lobbyists who work specifically for the interests of the University of Illinois, and this campus. A campus faculty union would be paying to support lobbyists who work for the larger unions of which this campus local is just a part. The duties of those lobbyists are not primarily focused on the interests of the University of Illinois, or this campus. And there may be cases where the interests of the wider unions are not the same as the interests of this campus.

Will a faculty union improve the quality of the university?

There are only five AAU (American Association of Universities) schools that are unionized, out of 62: Florida, Oregon, Rutgers, and SUNY Buffalo and Stony Brook. None of the schools we identify as peers and competitors for top faculty is unionized. No peer private universities, which generally offer higher salaries than we do, are unionized. Some unionized campuses have seen their US News rankings go up, others have gone down. Several of our top faculty have said they will leave if a faculty union is formed.

Will a faculty union “strengthen” shared governance?

State law defines the scope of collective bargaining around wages and working conditions and there is no requirement that governance issues be addressed in a contract. Nevertheless, union advocates propose writing into the contract parts or all of the university governing documents, in order to make them “binding.” There are two problems with this: one is that these governing documents are already binding, and administrators who ignore them do so at their peril, as recent events at this university have shown. Second, putting these elements into the contract gives the union final control over them; the campus senate and other faculty governance bodies would retain only those powers that the union cedes to them.

Is faculty input within the governance context “merely advisory”?

This is an oversimplification. In fact, there are at least three different contexts: (1) areas where faculty decisions are final and determinative, such as student evaluation and approvals of proposals to revise or create courses and curricula; (2) areas where faculty input is technically advisory, but where a wise administrator will not go forward without faculty support, such as hiring or promotion and tenure decisions; and (3) cases where you want an administrator to have the latitude to weigh faculty advice, along with everything else they know, and make the decision that they think best for the academic unit. If you don’t trust an administrator to do that, you have the wrong administrator in place.

Is opposition to a faculty union “anti-union”?

Of course not. Many faculty fully support unions and unionized workers in other sectors of campus. The question here is whether a faculty union would serve the interests of faculty well and benefit the campus, and whether given the professional status of faculty and governance structures of the campus there are better ways of representing faculty interests and concerns. One can disagree about these questions without being “anti-union.”

Where can I find more information about collective bargaining contracts on campuses that have faculty unions?

These contracts are available online. Some things to look for: rates for union dues, issues that are subject to bargaining, how the bargaining unit is defined, etc.

SUNY system: http://uupinfo.org

If you share our concerns about the impact of unionization on campus, please join our statement here:


(You can sign but withhold your name from public release, if you wish.)