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The "Crisis of Confidence" series is a multi-year effort by the Tri States Public Radio to document the impact the two-year state budget impasse had on Western Illinois University and the ongoing recovery efforts at WIU. State support for public higher education institutions has been steadily declining in Illinois for more than a decade. But the issue was compounded, during the state's historic two-year budget impasse during Fiscal Years '16 and '17 which left public colleges and universities with little state financial support. At Western Illinois University, that drastic cut in state appropriations resulted in significant budget cuts, employee furloughs, and layoffs.

Union Pickets for 'Fair Contract'

TSPR Emily Boyer
Picketers lined the sidewalk along Chandler Park

More than 150 Western Illinois University faculty, staff, and union supporters picketed in downtown Macomb Thursday. They want a fair contract for  Western's chapter of the University Professionals of Illinois.

The protesters stood shoulder-to-shoulder lining the snow-covered sidewalk in front of Chandler Park. They waved and chanted as vehicles passed through the busy intersection, demonstrating against salary cuts proposed by Western’s administration.

Credit TSPR's Emily Boyer
WIU Professor Lauren Barden-Gabbei told Tri States Public Radio's the Administration's proposed salary cuts would hurt the community.

Lauren Barden-Gabbei, a Professor with the Science Education program, has worked at Western for 23 years. Barden-Gabbei said she participated in the picketing because she wants the administration to see the union is serious.

“And when we start monkeying with the faculty’s contracts to the point where we have continued to be asked to give up salary. At some point, they have to understand people are leaving in droves,” Barden-Gabbei said. “The state of Illinois is seeing people leave in droves and it all has to do with this kind of nonsense.”

Credit TSPR's Emily Boyer
Associate Meteorology Professor Marcus Buker said the proposed salary cuts would especially hurt newer hires at WIU. Buker said he makes the minima and doesn't like the Administration's proposal to lower those salary increases in order to enhance higher salaries elsewhere.

The union and administration began mediation four months ago, after almost a year of negotiations. The Union’s lead negotiator, Associate Psychology Professor Dana Lindemann, said talks are progressing and the administration made a new offer last week.

“The most recent on-the-record proposal by the administration still presents a future in which employees at Western Illinois University would be making $10,000-15,000 below employees doing the same job at similar universities,” Lindemann said.

Lindemann said the Administration has taken furlough days off the table but is still asking for a 2% salary cut and to overhaul the minimum salary levels for employees. You can read the Administration's updates regarding the mediation process here

Lindemann said on the surface, some of the very obvious, large cuts have gone away, and she said the Union appreciates the movement the Administration has made. But, she said changes to the minima structure remain. "Those changes are much harder to see, you actually have to calculate somebody's salary across their career to see that."

The Union and Administration have two more mediation sessions scheduled for this month.

The contract for the University Professionals of Illinois expired last summer, though the two sides continue to operate under it.

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