Teachers and some staff at Western Illinois University will begin the new year without a new contract. They're in mediation with the administration and are working under terms of the previous contract, which expired over the summer.
The mediation sessions are scheduled to resume early in 2018.
In a December 5 letter emailed to the campus community, President Jack Thomas said he hoped the two sides “will arrive at an equitable and mutually beneficial resolution.”
That inspired comments from some faculty members and administrators during the WIU Board of Trustees’ quarterly meeting held on December 15.
“I want to thank Dr. Thomas because in his recent letter he spoke about the need for a mutually beneficial contract. And I believe that should be our common goal,” said Bill Thompson, President of the WIU Chapter of the University Professionals of Illinois, which represents teachers and many staff members.
“We applaud the president for leading the administrative team in a new direction, away from so-called concessionary bargaining and toward reciprocal, win-win bargaining.”
A less congenial note was struck by John Biernbaum, Associate Vice President for Student Services, who said administrative personnel have taken more reductions and for a longer period of time than any other group on campus.
“And they’ve done it without getting up to a mic at a town hall meeting or without getting up to a mic at a board meeting. They’ve put their head down, they’ve rolled their sleeves up. They’re some of the most dedicated people at this university,” he said.
Biernbaum also said he’s never heard an administrator complain about needing a raise or a reduced workload.
“They’ve been creative. They’ve taken on extra work. They understand that sacrifice is more than a salary reduction. They understand that sacrifice is reinventing and redefining who we are as departments, divisions, and the university,” he said.
During the state’s two-year budget impasse, Western imposed a furlough program on non-negotiated employees, including administrators and others who are not affiliated with a union. Many of these workers have been required to take approximately two weeks of unpaid days off per year.
One such person is Terri Hare, Director of Financial Aid, who said that even though she’s in her third year of taking furlough days, she’s more concerned about lower-paid employees who are not teachers but who still work with many students every day.
“There are people on this campus who are working very, very hard, who may or may not be taking furloughs because they are civil service. But they’re also making under what they should be at this campus for the amount of work they do,” Hare said.
She added she senses negativity on campus, which upsets her.
Union members have also sacrificed during the past few years by deferring pay and giving up scheduled raises.
Jim LaPrad, a Professor of Educational Studies, said he’s spoken with colleagues from throughout campus to get an idea of how they feel.
“And I’ll say this: That morale is not high, but right now I think there is some hope. And we’re really hopeful, particularly as the president has spoken about seeking out a mutually beneficial contract,” LaPrad said.
President Thomas responded that employee morale often comes up when he meets with various groups around campus.
“We know that the state has budget challenges and it creates uncertainty and worry. We know that the morale will be where it is right now,” said Dr. Thomas.
“However, let us keep in mind that the morale is a two-way street. And each person at this university and in our community has a part to play in building morale. It is up to all of us to help build morale by accentuating the positives.”
Thomas said Western is a wonderful place to work, and that Macomb and the Quad Cities are outstanding communities. He said Western Illinois University affects lives for the good and that those stories need to be told.