Faculty union dishes out messages to Freeman before talks resume Thursday


Sean Reed

Members of the faculty union gather before the NIU Board of Trustees meeting Thursday in the corridor outside of Altgeld Hall, Room 315. (Sean Reed | Northern Star)

By Bridgette Fox and Sean Reed

DeKALB – The United Faculty Alliance (UFA) of the University Professionals of Illinois, Local 4100, the union representing tenured and tenure-track NIU faculty, addressed the Board of Trustees regarding their ongoing collective bargaining talks during the board’s meeting Thursday.

Kerry Ferris, UFA president and associate professor of sociology at NIU, speaks on behalf of the union members during the meeting’s public comment segment. (Sean Reed)

The UFA’s previous collective bargaining agreement with NIU expired June 30. UFA members have been working without an agreement since July 1.

The majority of the people attending the meeting were members of UFA. Most attendees were holding paper plates with handwritten messages reading things such as “Commit to NIU’s best,” and “Commit to faculty longevity.”

Kerry Ferris, an associate professor of sociology and president of UFA, spoke on behalf of the UFA during the Board of Trustees meeting.

“We’ve maintained our commitment to NIU in the wake of tragedy, through years without raises or state budgets – and through a multiyear pandemic,” Ferris said.

Ferris encouraged union members to place their paper plates with handwritten pro-union messages on the board table in front of where NIU President Lisa Freeman was sitting.

Faculty union members fill the room at the beginning of the meeting, most displaying paper plates with handwritten messages written for NIU President Lisa Freeman. (Sean Reed)

Freeman thanked faculty members and wished them happy holidays as they delivered the plates to her.

Andy Bruno, an associate professor of history and vice president of UFA, was outside Altgeld Hall with demonstrators after Ferris’ address. Bruno said that, during negotiations for a potential bargaining agreement, NIU keeps striking the union’s proposal for yearly raises.

“We propose a structure by which there will be minimum salaries at the rank and time in rank,” Ferris said Wednesday.

Ferris said that NIU’s negotiation team has submitted the same counteroffer to raises and salary adjustments proposed by the UFA multiple times since July.

“We have proposed a set of across-the-board raises every year – the percentage is negotiable – but we are at 8% (raise increase per year) right now,” Bruno said. “The university is at 3.6% for that first year, and then they go down over the life of the contract.”

The university said it is committed to negotiating with the UFA, but that it is difficult to meet the union’s economic demands.

From left: NIU President Lisa Freeman, Board Chairman Eric Wasowicz, General Counsel Bryan Perry and Trustee Dennis Barsema sit at the Board of Trustees meeting while union members individually place the messages on the table in front of Freeman before exiting the room. (Sean Reed)

“UFA’s latest proposal for a new, four-year contract would cost more than an additional $18 million for salary increments alone and millions more in other financial implications to the university’s budget,” according to an NIU statement. “NIU’s data analysis shows that the package we are offering assures that NIU faculty salaries are competitive with peer institutions across Illinois, the Mid-American Conference and similar research universities.”

The UFA and university attempted to negotiate in April, but because the UFA invited the non-tenured instructors union of the United Professionals of Illinois, Local 4100 to attend negotiations, NIU left the bargaining table, according to the UFA.

The same invitation had been extended by the non-tenured instructors union earlier in April when it invited the UFA to its negotiations. NIU left the table, stating that the attendance circumstances were against the university’s standard practice. Non-tenured instructors and NIU reached a full bargaining agreement Sept. 15.

“We had negotiated in April,” Ferris said. “But there was a delay in negotiations because the university refused to negotiate with us for a while because they wanted to be able to tell us who we could bring to the negotiations.”

Negotiations will continue between NIU and the UFA at 8:30 a.m. Dec. 15 in the Holmes Student Center.