Faculty react to possible strike

By Jayna Ronayne

With the recent idea of a possible strike at five Illinois universities, some NIU faculty have views on the matter.

This week, about 2,200 faculty members at the Board of Governor’s universities (Governor’s State, Eastern, Western, Northeastern and Chicago State) were expected to vote on whether to authorize a strike if federal mediation is not effective.

Their union, University Professionals of Illinois (UPI), part of a parent group, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), is seeking higher pay for its members, who earn about 15 percent less than faculty members at comparable schools across the country.

Although NIU has no union for its faculty, there are organizational groups on campus, including AFT-UPI. When asked to comment on the non-union situation at NIU, past UPI vice president and current treasurer Orville Kersten, also an NIU professor, said there is a current attempt by local faculty to organize a “grassroots group of professors” for collective bargaining without the involvement of the national organization.

Another group, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), had run against the UPI with the intent to organize faculty at NIU about five years ago.

AAUP acting president Gordon Dorn said the UPI beat out the AAUP, and went on to face the group representing the alternative for no-agent (no representation for collective bargaining).

The no-agent side won, and the result was no organization for NIU’s faculty. Since then, there has been no effort by AAUP for organization, Dorn said.

“We (AAUP) have no plans to conduct another attempt for organization,” Dorn said. “We put an awful lot of energy into it before without success.”

Dan Griffiths, a biology professor who shares the non-union point of view, said one of the main problems with forming a union is that it locks the faculty into a contract.

“If you’re not a member, you can lose your freedom and voice,” he said. Griffiths also pointed out that last year, a senate was formed to represent the faculty. “Here (at NIU) every member has a vote.”

Dorn also said the whole idea of collective bargaining is a “difficult situation for the institution here. We just don’t have the resources.”

“Salary is just one issue. Other things like inadequate budget for the library, etc. are also important,” he said.

Kersten agreed there were other issues. “The important thing is increased recognition for the faculty,” he said. “We need a greater voice in who determines where things will go, what will be done, where money is directed and how decisions are arrived at, especially in the area of benefits.”