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Four Months In: WIU Administration and Union Contract Mediation

TSPR Emily Boyer
A truck parked in front of WIU's Sherman Hall displays union sponsored poster that reads, "fair contract now"

During mediation, members of the union representing faculty and staff gather in one room and the administration is in another. The federal mediator goes back and forth between them. Much of what's discussed during mediation is confidential.

Russ Morgan, WIU Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs, is also the lead negotiator for the administration. Morgan said the confidentiality isn’t about secrecy. He said it helps to have more open discussions about proposals.

“In fact, we don’t even call them proposals [in mediation], we call them supposals, as an idea. ‘Suppose, we did this.’ And the idea of that is because it’s confidential and we’re talking, you know, about things that perhaps we could try, is that we can be more free to talk about different ideas and they’re not put on the record,” Morgan said. “We can toss around different ideas and try to be a little creative with the agreements and the packages that we put together.”

Western Illinois University’s administration requested meditation with the union representing faculty and staff in September. Before that, negotiations on a new contract had been on going for more than a year.

Morgan told Tri States Public Radio on Tuesday that he feels the administration’s package of proposals looks much different than it did a year ago or even from September when the administration gave its last on the record proposal to the union.

Morgan feels the administration deserves credit for how far it has come. That’s why he was critical of the union in an email he sent to the university community last week after the September proposal was again mentioned in a member newsletter.

Morgan wrote in the email titled Setting the record straight that by referencing the September proposal, the union’s leadership was “misleading the membership and thwarting progress.”

Even though the negotiating teams are not allowed to talk about any proposals or supposals discussed in mediation, Morgan said he would still like the union leaders to look ahead rather than back.

“Our concern was that the UPI team knows full well that we’ve made a lot of progress and we’ve come a long way since September. Now, although they can’t talk about it publicly, my concern was that they’re not acknowledging that we’ve made progress. And focusing on the one the record proposals that occurred in September just isn’t an accurate portrayal of what’s going on,” Morgan said.

But Bill Thompson, who's a faculty member and President of Western’s chapter of University Professionals of Illinois, said the last on the record proposal from September does matter because:

  1. It’s the only proposal the union can talk about publicly
  2. If there were an impasse, the administration could try and impose the terms from their last on the record proposal

Those terms have recently changed though. Thompson said during the mediation session on Wednesday, the union was offered a new on the record proposal from the administration.
Thompson said there are some similarities and differences between this week’s proposals and the one from September.

“What doesn’t change is the fact that we aren’t getting anything for the things we’ve already given up and they’re still taking money from us,” Thompson said. “No other institution within the UPI or, as far as we know, any public institution in the state of Illinois is asking faculty for these kinds of permanent reductions. No one is cutting the instructional side of the university like this.”

Thompson said overall significant issues remain between the union and the administration. Most notably is the disagreement over salary minima, which dictates the minimum amount of money someone must be paid. It is designed to keep salaries level with peer institutions. The union wants to keep the program intact while the administration is proposing an overhaul.

Thompson said he plans to discuss the specifics of the latest proposal with members to gather feedback during meetings on Monday and Tuesday.

Two more mediation session are scheduled this month. There’s no deadline in place to reach a deal. The union’s contract expired over the summer but the two sides continue to operate under it.

This is the first time the union and administration have used a federal mediator for negotiations.

Emily Boyer is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.