Union members work towards better teaching conditions

By Northern Star Editorial Board

For two years, the United Faculty Alliance has been working on a contract with the hopes of improving teaching conditions for tenured and tenure-track faculty at NIU. The Board of Trustees will vote Thursday on whether or not the contract will go into effect.

“The UFA is a group of faculty committed to improving education here on campus,” UFA Vice President Mark Schuller said. “We got together because there were plenty of issues that were getting in the way of us doing our jobs effectively.”

There are about 630 tenured and tenure-track faculty members on campus and about 500 are members of the UFA, Laura Vazquez, member of the UFA, said. The UFA still represents those who are not members, given they meet the criteria of full-time faculty. Department chairs and faculty from the College of Law are not members of the UFA bargaining unit, Simón Weffer, UFA executive board member, said.

There are numerous unions that represent different sections of the university workforce, but the UFA is the first to represent all tenured and tenure-track faculty, Schuller said.

The UFA was formed to give a voice to full-time faculty members at NIU, and the forthcoming contract is a reflection of what needs have not been met by standing university policies and bylaws, in the eyes of UFA members. The contract, also known as a collective bargaining agreement, must be approved by the University Council and the Board of Trustees before it can take effect.

The UFA is different than the Faculty Senate in that the union represents all the faculty in bargaining with the university as an institution, Weffer said. The faculty senate represents the faculty in discussing issues like curriculum, tenure and promotion and the day-to-day running of the university. The union is concerned with the overall big-picture aspects like pay increases and working conditions.

“The faculty senate here at Northern has been around [for], I don’t even know how long,” Beatrix Hoffman, UFA lead negotiator, said. “I’ve been here for 24 years. The union is new. We haven’t had a tenure-track faculty union ever before at Northern.”

Upon approval, the terms of the contract would span until June 30, 2022, at which point the contract would need renewal.

The contract is available online at the Academic Unions page of the Human Resource Services website. Salary changes put forth in the tentative contract include:

•Across-the-board 3% raises for every bargaining unit member for three years, starting this year

•$500,000 for three years, starting this year, for correcting salary compression, inversion and inequity

•One-time $500 lump-sum payment for all bargaining unit members employed at NIU in 2018-19 (and still employed)

•The administration will allocate an additional 1% each of three years, based on its total salary expenditure, for merit raises

While most of the conditions of the contract apply only to tenured and tenure-track faculty members, several of the changes benefit all staff members employed at the university. The improvements to NIU’s paid family leave policy, including a guaranteed five weeks of parental and medical leave and an additional semester of modified duties at full pay for new parents, affect all employees.

Some of the biggest changes in the contract concern faculty workload. Under the tentative contract, standard teaching or credit hour equivalencies will be established, as well as guaranteed continuation of teaching loads for highly research-active faculty and departments.

The contract outlines layoff protections, including stringent procedures for program elimination as well as mandatory reassignment and recall in the event of faculty layoffs.

Weffer said the bargaining team responsible for handling negotiations is made up of UFA volunteers from different colleges, and the aim in putting the team together is to create a well-rounded group of people representative of many departments on campus.

“I think one thing that’s important to say is that for the most part, our executive board was hands-off [in the negotiations],” Weffer said. “We helped put the bargaining team together, and we had faith in what they were doing.”

After over 50 bargaining sessions with the University Council discussing details set out by the contract, the UFA refers to the Board of Trustees for final approval, Reva Freedman, UFA treasurer, said.