The Western Illinois University administration and the union representing teachers and staff are headed to mediation after almost a year of contract negotiations. The university's contract with the University Professionals of Illinois (UPI) expired over the summer so both sides continue to operate under the old agreement.
The two groups began meeting in October 2016, hoping to craft a new five year contract. The administration requested a mediator in September 2017 after saying negotiations were at a standstill. The union did not join in the request for mediation, although its members said they are looking forward to the process and hope to find resolution.
This is the first time either side can remember having to go through mediation.
Russ Morgan, Western’s Associate Provost for Academic Affairs, leads the university’s negotiating team. He said when contract talks started the administration was working from the perspective that the state had not had a budget in almost two years. “We were in a bad situation. We didn’t have a budget and we didn’t know about enrollment,” Morgan said.
State lawmakers did finally pass a budget deal in July without the support of Governor Bruce Rauner, ending a two-year budget impasse. Higher education will receive about 90% of its 2015 funding level. State lawmakers also signed off on providing MAP grants for low-income students this year. Still, fall student enrollment at Western was down again, falling 9% from last year.
Morgan said that the administration wants a sustainable contract with UPI. He said the university expects another budget shortfall this year. “We are in a situation now where we can no longer make some of the large promises moving forward in terms of salary increases.”
He said that some of the past administrations agreed to two, three, and even four percent salary increases each year over the life of the contract. “We’ve learned with the state budget situation and the uncertainty that exists that that is just not a feasible thing anymore,” Morgan said. Instead, he said the administration is looking for more flexibility and it's asking for cuts as part of what he called “concession bargaining.”
In recent years, UPI members have made some concessions. Last year, union members voted to defer 3% of their pay and 1% negotiated salary increases for two years in order to help the university get by during the budget impasse.
Dana Lindemann, WIU Associate Professor of Psychology, is the lead negotiator for local chapter of UPI. She said the give-back program has resulted in a significant loss for union employees.
“Since 2010, the average UPI faculty member has given up $21,000 in salary in what was negotiated raises,” Lindemann said. “So for our members, even the idea idea of a 3% [salary] cut in addition to the givebacks that have been made since 2010 is a really hard pill to swallow.”
According to the documents released by both sides, several points of contention remain which include:
The administration is asking for a 3% annual salary reduction and to impose up to 8 furlough days [equal to another 4% pay reduction] on teachers to be taken during university holidays only.
That is similar to the current furlough program for non-union employees that ranges from 6-8 days per year depending on salary level, although those furlough days can be taken throughout the academic year and do not affect employees earning less than $40,000.
The union’s proposal does not include furlough days and instead maintains current salary levels for the first two years of the contract and then implements a salary increase in the final three years of the contract equal to 90% of the Consumer Price Index.
The union is asking for a reduction in work load for Unit A professors from four classes each semester to a load of three classes each semester. Additionally, the union would like Unit B teaching loads reduced from a four/four class schedule to a four/three load for the year.
According to the union, the administration is asking for an increase in the teaching workload up to four classes per semester. But, the administration told Tri States Public Radio that request has been removed from the most recent contract proposal.
The university administration wants to eliminate automatic minima bumps and lanes in exchange for an increase in the bonus amounts associated with promotions.
Russ Morgan said historically the idea behind minima was to ensure faculty did not fall behind on the wage scale. But he said it fails to recognize fair salary levels compared to the marketplace.
He said different disciplines such as finance, accounting, and nursing require higher salaries in order to recruit and retain teachers. Morgan said the problem with minima is, "Those people end up eventually making the same as everyone else. Over time, if you are here for 15-20 years everyone makes the same salary." He said the university administration's proposal would keep those salary levels staggered through promotion based bonuses.
The union wants to keep minima pay and bumps intact, citing the system as critical to keeping pay fair between men and women and keeping compensation level with peer institutes. Without minima, Lindemann said, "our salaries would quickly drop about $8,000-$20,000 below our peer institutions and WIU would have a very difficult time recruiting attractive faculty and staff."
Other points of contention include changes to the structure for awarding Professional Achievement Awards for teachers, summer school compensation, class overload pay, as well as travel expenses for conferences and teaching classes in the Quad Cities.
Union leaders called the administration's overall proposal drastic. “We don’t see any positives for the students or for the community from the administration’s proposal. What this actually does is creates diminished student experience because an unstable and demoralized faculty is not going to be as focused, it can’t be,” said Western’s UPI Chapter President Bill Thompson .
As for the WIU administration, Morgan said the aim is to keep the university running and looking forward. “By the proposals we have made here, this would bring us more in line with the money we are bringing in, in terms of tuition dollars and state appropriations. It would make us more viable and allow us to move forward and continue to reinvest in certain areas,” said Russ Morgan.
A mediator has been assigned to the contract talks. The WIU administration and UPI both said they are eager to get the process started.