SSU faculty strike possible

By Vickie Snow

Sangamon State University faculty might strike within 24 hours after not hearing pleasing answers from Monday night negotiations with the Board of Regents.

On Monday, the Board made its “final and best” offer of a 2 percent salary increase for the professors, said John Pembroke, regency system vice chancellor for administrative affairs. SSU professors want a 9 to 11 percent increase.

Regents said they offered the 2 percent salary increase based on money provided from the state for SSU.

Union officials met with SSU faculty Wednesday and soundly rejected the proposed contract with a vote of 70-26, said Cheryl Peck, assistant to Regents Chancellor Roderick Groves.

Although no walkout has begun, the SSU bargaining team has authority to strike at any time, Peck said.

“The Board’s offer is final, but it doesn’t mean we won’t listen to what they have to say,” she said.

Mitch Vogel, president of University Professionals of Illinois, said the Board wouldn’t mind seeing a strike begin because they want “the union to look bad.”

In any case, union officials aren’t settling for the final offer. If the strike happens, it will continue “until we get what we want,” Vogel said. “We’ll shut the university down.”

Still, SSU faculty want to get past the strike, he said.

Monday, the Regents “admitted they have the money to grant our financial package demands, but don’t want to,” Vogel said.

In addition to salary, the package includes changes regarding union rights and continuation of policies such as insurance, vacation and retirement.

“We’re pleased they put it on the table, but not pleased with the response,” Vogel said.

The Regents said they do not want to negotiate the budget with the union and said faculty salaries are not their top priority, Vogel said.

UPI local 4100, representing more than 165 teachers, has been following terms of its contract that expired in June.

Pembroke, who has been heavily involved with the negotiations, said “good progress has been made … and we hope a strike can be avoided. A strike doesn’t benefit anyone—not faculty, students or the university.”

Because union officials are heading toward a strike, Regent officials “are sadly mistaken” if they think a strike is not coming, Vogel said.

Yet, Peck said “a strike is not a certainty and not inevitable.”

When the union notified the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board and the Regents of work dissatisfaction Oct. 12, Groves did not seem alarmed. “I don’t think (the situation) is as serious as the notification would suggest,” he previously said.