Faculty and staff at Western Illinois University have voted to ratify a new employment contract. Western's Board of Trustees is scheduled to consider the agreement during a special meeting Friday.
The contract was approved by Western's chapter of University Professionals of Illinois with 75% support (274-89). Voter turnout was 68%.
Dana Lindemann served as lead negotiator for the union. She is an Associatee Psychology Professor on the Macomb campus.
Lindemann told Tri States Public Radio the new contract spans four years, though the 2017/2018 school year is considered year 1. She said salaries are frozen the first two years and then salaries will be cut by 2% in year three.
The deal also eliminates some salary minima lanes in exchange for a new pilot program for a merit-based pay system. Members will also be paid 15% less for summer classes.
“We really understood and acknowledge that the financial situation from both the [Illinois] legislature as well as the declining student enrollment here at Western warranted a need for some kind of cost savings here at Western,” Lindemann said.
In exchange for those cost savings, Lindemann said the negotiating team was able to secure some new benefits for members that can be built upon in coming years. She said the new contract includes a better promotional structure for non-tenured track faculty and more parental leave.
There is also a provision that allows for negotiations to be re-opened in two years if conditions at the university improve.
UPI and the university’s administrative team spent more than a year in contract talks before entering into mediation, which lasted the past 8 months. In April, the union voted to authorize a strike, giving union leadership the ability to call for one, if necessary.
Lindemann said that was a turning point.
“When we did that, the administration came back to the table and worked with us on some of the issues from their most recent on the record proposal at that time that, I think, a lot of our members found very objectionable,” Lindemann said.
Shortly after the strike authorization vote, the two sides reached a tentative agreement.
Union leaders said the deal could have been much worse given the university's on-the-record proposals from last fall, which included 3% annual salary cuts, furlough days, and elimination of salary minima.
“We think this is the best deal we can get for our membership right now in sort of the worst of times for WIU,” Lindemann said.
The new contract still needs approval from Western’s Board of Trustees. The Board has scheduled a special session for Friday afternoon at the Quad Cities campus to discuss the contract.
UPDATE: The Board of Trustees approved the contract with UPI by unanimous vote during a special meeting Friday afternoon.
In a letter to the university community, WIU President Dr. Jack Thomas thanked faculty and staff for voting to ratify a new contract and praised the members of the negotiating teams for UPI Local 4100 and the administration for their tremendous efforts to reach a sustainable agreement.