Faculty and staff at Western Illinois University have voted to authorize a strike.
Western’s chapter of the University Professionals of Illinois (UPI) has more than 600 members, the majority of whom are faculty. UPI has been negotiating with the university administration on a new contract for more than a year and a half.
UPI members cast their ballots Wednesday on the Macomb and Quad Cities campuses. A few hours later, the union announced on Facebook, "The WIU UPI strike authorization vote passes with high turnout and an overwhelming majority."
Educational Studies Professor Jim LaPrad is a member of the union’s leadership team. He told Tri States Public Radio Wednesday night that about 80% of eligible members cast ballots. According to the union, the vote passed with a large majority, though LaPrad declined to say by how much exactly.
LaPrad said the high voter turnout should send a message that, “membership cares about this institution, they care about Western and they care about building a better future for our institution, students and our community.”
Passage of the authorization vote, though, does not automatically trigger a strike. Rather, it gives union leadership the ability to call for one anytime after a waiting period of 10 calendar days.
LaPrad said the union plans to go ahead and file the paperwork, but members do not have plans, at this time, to go on strike. Still, he said the vote is an important tool to have given that the administration can, at any time, impose a contract.
“We believe having the authority is necessary at this time to show the administration that there’s a unity of one voice,” LaPrad said.
Negotiations between UPI and the university’s administration over the past seven months have involved a federal mediator. The next mediation session is scheduled for Monday, April 23.
The two sides remain divided on a number of issues including proposed salary cuts and changes to the salary minima structure.
Western's Associate Provost for Budget, Planning and Personnel, Russ Morgan, leads negations for the administration. In a statement, he said that he hopes a strike can be avoided.
"We are hopeful that mediation will lead to a sustainable and fiscally responsible agreement with UPI Local 4100,” said Morgan in the statement. “We urge our faculty to remain in the classroom and to remain committed to their students.”