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.

Sunday, April 6, 2014



The CFA has put out another new publication entitled, Faculty Union Basics,” which presents the organization’s version of how a faculty union would operate on our campus. Like many of their informative postings, what is most revealing is what they choose NOT to tell people.

The brochure begins by repeating a well-worn list of the benefits faculty unionization would supposedly have. There is no down side, no danger, no risk. In the real world, we know that EVERY complex decision has an upside and a downside, benefits as well as costs. 

Once again, faculty life under the collective bargaining regime is envisioned here as all benefit, with no cost whatsoever. That’s not an honest or realistic assessment. It’s a fantasy.

The faculty union organizers go on to comment that their preferred form of campaigning – through a closed-door, one-on-one recruitment campaign instead of an open, public election – “requires the highest level of faculty support.” No explanation is offered for the counterintuitive claim that organizers have purposely chosen the most difficult method. However, the AAUP manual for union organizers provides a more accurate explanation:

Organizing campaigns often begin slowly and only “go public” when the organizers (the OC) are confident that they have majority support.

Before going public, but after you have built a considerable OC, there is often a lengthy period of extensive office visiting with future members to identify issues, to educate them on issues about which they may not be fully aware, and to get them ready for future actions (including signing union authorization cards).

One-on-one visits led by OC members and other volunteers are the single most important component of any organizing campaign. It is in these visits that the OC learns how to define the struggles that their future members face and the issues that they feel are paramount, and it is in these visits that support for unionization is consolidated.

In fact, union organizers are now going to peoples private homes to try to recruit them. (They arent telling you that, either.)

The new information booklet does represent a departure from previous publications in the current CFA campaign in that it directly broaches the subject of who would be included in the union.” But it does so in a way that does not clarify the most important aspect of this question: the separation of tenure-track faculty and non-tenure-track faculty. In Section 3, we find this passage: “At the University of Illinois, all tenured and tenure-track faculty members with an academic appointment of .51 FTE or greater are eligible to be part of the union. . . For purposes of collective bargaining, Illinois labor law divides faculty into separate categories, known as bargaining units. In the case of the University of Illinois, faculty members who have tenure or tenure-track appointments fall into a different bargaining unit than non-tenure-track faculty. Both groups may belong to the same union, but each bargaining unit will have to negotiate its own contract.”

As we have pointed out elsewhere, this formulation continues to obscure the fact that current state labor law dictates not only that different bargaining units hold separate negotiations with their employer and write completely separate contracts, but also that the initial organization of each of these bargaining units must be carried out via separate elections or card campaigns.

We do not know why such a crucial point is elided in a publication that claims to be about providing faculty with objective, accurate information about the union campaign. The fact is that, after the brochure was released – and after we had called them on this misrepresentation – CFA had to explain this point on their blog : “Tenured/tenure-track faculty and non-tenure track faculty must form separate bargaining units (Section 3) – and of course a majority is required in each bargaining unit in order for that unit to gain legal recognition.”

They say “of course,” but to our knowledge this is the first time they have affirmed this legal requirement publicly. Ironically, offering this clarification now calls into question the many previous instances on their website, Facebook page, and public statements that made no separation between the organizing aims of tenure-track faculty and those of non-tenure-track faculty. On the contrary, the entirety is presented as a mass of support for “the” [sic] union. There is no consideration of issues over which the interests of each of these groups may be in conflict, or how such a conflict would be resolved. There is no acknowledgement of the obvious question of why the campaign for NTT unionization is being waged by a tenure-track-faculty-dominated organization that until very recently had very little involvement with or concern over NTT issues – and not by an autonomous group led by and representing NTTs themselves.

The brochure also repeats another assertion we have heard many times before: “Faculty unions aspire to be democratic organizations. They typically develop their own constitutions, elect their own officers, manage their own resources and determine their own priorities. The general membership normally approves all major decisions.” What this statement neglects to emphasize is that only full dues-paying members have a voice in these “democratic organizations” – NOT the campus faculty generally. This, in spite of the fact that the CFA admits that they plan to demand that those who choose not to become union members and pay full dues will still be required to pay “fair share dues.”

In contrast to the campus Senate and other shared governance bodies, campus faculty would not be eligible to run for union office or vote on their union representatives, policies, negotiating priorities, or tactics such as strikes unless they pay full dues – though the union would still be representing itself as speaking for the faculty, and not just for its members.

The brochure goes on to celebrate the virtues of collective bargaining, but does not identify any of the specific issues union advocates would be emphasizing in their campaign. As we will discuss in detail in a later post, the basic argument is “first create a union, and then find out what union representatives will be negotiating for.”

In Section 5, the brochure says, “Faculty unions are much more common than people think. Nationwide, about 29% of all academic faculty at four year colleges and universities are unionized. Historically, though, few top-tier research universities in the United States have unionized.”

Actually, 29% is much less common than we would have guessed. We leave it to you to decide whether this university should stake its future on a decision that fewer than a third of universities have seen fit to adopt. And you can judge whether Rutgers, Florida, Oregon, UIC and the SUNY campuses are “top-tier research universities.” The fact remains that they are not schools our campus identifies as peer institutions.

We also wonder whether it helps their case to look to UIC as a positive example, where negotiations have dragged on unproductively for almost two years, and where there has already been one faculty strike and a threat of another. On the contrary, as we have pointed out, what has happened as a result of UIC faculty unionization serves as a dramatic illustration of why our own campus should not want that.

In Section 6, the brochure cites some contract details at Florida and Rutgers. This strategy has always puzzled us. Pointing to what was negotiated at other schools, with different institutional structures, faculty cultures, histories, and state contexts, tells us nothing about what would be negotiated here. The troubled case of UIC is a much better predictor, because (1) it is part of the same university family, (2) the union there is affiliated with, and advised by, exactly the same state and national unions as would be connected to this campus, and (3) union advocates here have themselves cited UIC as their model.

In Section 7, reasons are given for affiliation with state and national unions. Again, this is only described in terms of benefits, with no mention of costs or potential downsides. The Illinois Federation of Teachers and American Federation of Teachers primarily represent public school personnel. It is far from clear whether the interests of university faculty are always compatible with the interests of public school educators – for example, in lobbying for levels of state funding and support. So when the brochure says, “Unions engage in lobbying at the state and national level on issues that affect their members,” one must question how the interests of university faculty will weigh against the much greater numbers of non-university union members. Nor does the brochure tell people that the university already has a lobbying team that works aggressively for the interests of this campus and its members. Its concerns are solely focused on the University of Illinois, not any other constituent group.

Section 8 asks “What Would a Faculty Union Look Like at UIUC?” Here again we are given the rose-colored view with very few specifics.

What is clear is that despite statements here and elsewhere that the union would seek to strengthen the Senate, the broad goals being espoused by union advocates would directly interfere with the statutory authority of the Senate and shared governance system. In fact, one of the sticking points at UIC has been the union demand to rewrite sections of the Statutes, and the union there is already demanding that the union as such must be represented in campus and university governance bodies.

We have seen in our Senate that members from CFA have, until very recently, identified themselves as representing and speaking for that body (one member referred to the CFA as “my constituency”). We have seen CFA representatives regularly attending public Senate Executive Committee meetings and identifying themselves as “CFA observers.” Most recently, CFA officers who are not Senate members have requested blanket “floor privileges” to speak for the CFA position as a part of regular Senate deliberations whether they relate directly to CFA/union concerns or not.

Unions (where established) are defined by state law as authorized to negotiate “wages, hours, and working conditions.” A union is not a statutorily authorized campus constituency or governance entity. Union advocates here and at UIC have consistently blurred that difference, raising further unanswered questions about how they would act if they ever were formally established on this campus.

The CFA has made expansive claims elsewhere that the union would address “issues like pensions, clear promotion processes, diversity, equity, class size, quality and cost of education, and the transparency of administrative decision-making . . . improvements for contingent faculty, increased transparency in promotion procedures, ownership of intellectual property, protection for the powers of the Senate, teaching loads, class size, the physical condition of facilities, and provision of teaching assistants for large classes . . .” They have, somewhat obliquely, expressed concerns about online courses and programs, without saying what their position on that subject might be.

What they are not telling you is that all of these issues are already dealt with through the shared governance system, and some of them are adjudicated explicitly in University-wide governing documents that have been approved by all three campus senates. If a union were to attempt to collectively bargain demands about any of these issues, it would inevitably infringe on the role of the Senate to represent all faculty (not just dues-paying union members) over issues of campus policy – especially but not only academic policy.

***This blog is a jointly authored project by two people who believe that the campaign for tenure-track faculty unionization has damaged morale and divided our campus, and that a faculty union, if ever established, would erode academic quality and undermine our highly successful system of campus shared governance, which has earned nationwide praise. 

We speak for ourselves. We have no organization behind us, we don’t ask for funding, we don’t pay national hired guns to come in and make the case for us. 

We want to start a different campus conversation about faculty unionization, which we believe will be more thoughtful and substantive when people have all the facts. 

We welcome and will consider postings from others expressing issues and concerns about faculty unionization. We know that many faculty are very upset about the possibility of working on a unionized campus. 

If you see any information here that is inaccurate, please tell us and we will correct it. 

If you share our concerns and want to help, please forward these postings to your friends and colleagues, and urge them to do the same.***