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Union Files Complaint Against WIU's Plans for In-Person Classes

Rich Egger

Western Illinois University intends to hold in-person classes beginning August 24 in Macomb and the Quad Cities. But the union representing faculty members is fighting that plan.

The University Professionals of Illinois (UPI) said WIU failed to bargain with the union when developing the plan.

“They’re still having a significant amount of face-to-face classes and the safety concerns have not been met,” said UPI President John Miller.

“We’re bringing 5,000, 6,000, 7,000 students into an area like Macomb and the Quad Cities without the necessary safety procedures. So we don’t think the situation is safe.”

Miller said Western should strive to hold classes remotely when possible during the pandemic.  He said the university proved during the spring it can do that.

He also said all students and employees should be tested for COVID-19 before they come onto campus, and that the best possible filtered air systems should be placed in every classroom.

UPI has filed unfair labor practice charges with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board (IELRB). The complaints name Western as well as Eastern Illinois University.

The union said Eastern’s administration also failed to bargain with employees when developing plans for in-person classes. In addition, the union is concerned because Eastern is in Coles County, which the state has placed at a COVID-19 warning level because at least two public health indicators are headed in the wrong direction.

Miller said the IELRB’s executive director could issue a decision Tuesday. He said that decision can be appealed to the full board, which could take up the case when it meets on Thursday.

Western’s Plan

Western’s administration said it has crafted a comprehensive program called the Protect the ‘Necks Plan. Administrators said it includes protocols based on local public health recommendations.

You can read the plan here.

During an online open forum with faculty and staff, Western Interim President Martin Abraham said the university intends to use an FDA-approved antigen test to conduct regular COVID-19 testing of students and staff.

“It will be a lot more user-friendly than the up-the-nose, tickle-the-brain test that is standard,” Dr. Abraham said.

However, Abraham said Western is still waiting for the equipment to arrive.

Abraham said Western is prepared for students and employees who refuse to wear a face mask.

“If an individual is refusing to wear a mask and they’re not complying, we will bring OPS (the Office of Public Safety) into the fold and get them to address anybody who’s being belligerent, who’s being problematic, who’s not doing what we’re asking them to do,” Abraham said.

“If they absolutely refuse to wear a face covering, we have the ability to restrict their ability to be on campus. We’ve already done that with a student who refused to wear a face covering. We told that student they weren’t welcome to participate, and to the best of my knowledge that student went home.

“We intend to enforce our policy so that we can keep everybody safe.”

He said WIU has plans in place to accommodate those who cannot wear a face mask due to health reasons.

Abraham told employees Western can get through all the changes brought on by the pandemic if everyone is flexible, accommodating, and pulls together.

This story was produced by Tri States Public Radio.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.