The union representing faculty and staff at Western Illinois University marched through the heart of campus Monday afternoon demanding a fair contract from the administration.
Dozens of faculty, staff, students, and other members of the Macomb community gathered on the south side of Stipes Hall before marching to the University Union.
Many in attendance wore a green union t-shirt or a green ribbon to show solidarity. They waved home-made signs with slogans that read, “Negotiate Don’t Dictate”, “Fighting for WIU’s Future” and “I Don’t Want to Strike, But I Will.”
A handful of professors took a minute or two to address the crowd, including History Professor Peter Cole.
He criticized the university’s administration for being more focused on building its reserve funds than on paying its teachers. “Really that’s money the university chooses to save instead of paying us the wages we deserve,” Cole said.
“When we are told that our wages must be cut for the university, don’t believe it. Instead the administration spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawyers to delay and deny justice to dozens of our WIU faculty who were laid off while still suffering through years of arbitration. They spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of university money on lawyers who drag out contract negotiations that divide the university and destroy morale.”
He told the crowd it’s fair for the union to refuse wage cuts because they work hard to earn their salaries and WIU needs to be able to attract and retain the best teachers.
A few students in attendance also grabbed the megaphone to address the crowd. Elizabeth Swan is a sophomore history education major from Oak Lawn, Illinois.
Swan said the Student Government Association held an event this semester with the theme, “Why I Stay at Western.”
She said it got her thinking.
“The truth is, looking out here today at our incredible faculty of professors is what keeps me at Western. The professors that I have had the pleasure of having in classes and through other lines of work have shown me the greatest value of our institution,” Swan said.
Swan said it was the university’s professors who helped her acclimate to college life and challenged her academically.
UPI members and supporters marched from Stripes Hall to the University Union. They rallied outside that building where the mediation session was scheduled between UPI and the university’s administration.
The administration and the union have spent the last 18 months negotiating a new employee contract. Last week, the union members gave their leadership the ability to call a strike, though no strike date has been scheduled.