By CARL GREEN
Edwardsville, IL – Madison County has a strong new union now that the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board has certified the new SIUE Faculty Association-IEA/NEA with about 400 tenured and tenure-track faculty members.
The union was certified on Thursday, Dec. 8 as the exclusive bargaining representative for some 400 tenured and tenure track faculty Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. The Faculty Association has been a non-bargaining group at the university since 2000.
Faculty members began the organizing drive as the 2015-16 academic year began with a state government budget stalemate while faculty and staff were already concerned about adequate state support. The drive succeeded, with more than half of eligible members stating their support in a Majority Interest Petition that was filed with the state on Sept. 2, 2016.
“Some Illinois universities were in danger of closing their doors altogether,” said Kim Archer, a music professor who was elected president at the Faculty Association’s first membership meeting in early November.
“SIUE’s rising enrollment and cash reserves helped us avoid the kind of layoffs and cutbacks suffered at Eastern, Western and Chicago State – but our administration continues to face hard choices here,” she said. “We organized to ensure a place at the table when hard decisions need to be made.”
Archer said forming the new union will strengthen the coalitions of public employee unions and university administrators that are trying to hold the state accountable.
Among the current battles are proposed cut in hard-earned pension benefits – forestalled for now – and higher health care premiums. Under state law, work on a contract must begin within 60 days of certification.
“Our efforts were not aimed at local university policies or administrators,” noted Management & Marketing Professor Mary Sue Love, newly elected vice-president of the union.
“There is much to be done on campus, however, to enhance and maintain educational quality,” she added. “We seek to do this by working together where we can with colleagues in the Faculty Senate. As a union, we can also address basic employment concerns, which will boost morale and recognize the hard work of our faculty.”
The Illinois Education Association-NEA will now represent nearly 900 SIUE employees, with the Faculty Association joining three other IEA locals – Non-Tenure Track Faculty, Professional Staff, and Technical Staff.
With more than 130,000 members, IEA serves public education faculty and staff at all levels, from early childhood programs through doctoral degree-granting institutions.
State labor law enables employees to secure collective bargaining rights when more than 50 percent of those to be represented sign a form with state-prescribed language authorizing collective bargaining rights.
When a majority of the proposed bargaining unit sign these forms, no election on the question of representation is necessary. While many of the supporters signed union authorization statements, most became actual members of the union.
The Faculty Association chose this method over ballot voting to ensure a true majority would decide the question.
Noted Archer: “Many still weighing the new situation will come around when we speak with them about bargaining concerns and remind them that strength in numbers means a better union contract – and that helps everybody.”
IEA Higher Education Director Michael McDermott said it took several dozen activists to make the drive a success. They met with faculty members, wrote and distributed materials, held informational events and staffed tables where faculty could ask questions.
More information can be found at the local’s website at siuefa.org.