Union contract includes salary raise, layoff protections

By Noah Thornburgh

DeKALB — The United Faculty Alliance’s tentative agreement includes salary raises, a $750,000 research fund and a guaranteed standard teaching workload.

The contract was ratified by the union Oct. 18. The Board of Trustees will vote on the agreement Nov. 14.

The UFA, which was first recognized by the Illinois Regulation and Labor Board in June 2016, currently represents over 500 tenured and tenure-track faculty members at NIU.

Simón Weffer, executive board member for the UFA, said the contract is a victory for all parties and follows about 2 years of civil negotiations.

“Negotiations can often be contentious, as we saw in, say, the [Chicago Teacher’s Union] strike or a few years ago when [University of Illinois Chicago] went on strike,” Weffer said. “But, for the most part, everyone was civil and professional, and it just took some time because it’s the first contract, but also they have four different lead negotiators over that time period, so, you know, that can set things back.”

The university released a statement Oct. 18 stating they were pleased with the negotiations. The university declined to comment further at this time.

The contract

Under the contract, unionized faculty members would see a 3% salary raise for all three years of the contract. Non-unionized faculty members received a 3% salary increase in May.

If ratified, the contract would set a base pay of $62,500 for assistant professors, $67,500 for associate professors and $77,500 for full professors.

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The administration will spend a total of $10 million on salary, including raises and the development fund, during the four years of the contract, according to a summary of the contract put together by the UFA. The summary states this total is a 23% increase in university spending for faculty salaries.

Weffer said the across-the-board raise NIU employees received fall 2018 was the first he received since he started.

The administration would spend $500,000 every year for the three years of the contract to correct salary compressions or inversions based on the 2015-2016 Faculty Salary Study.

Salary compression refers to when the pay gap between new hires and senior professors decreases as the university increases the wages new hires receive. An inversion is when new hires make more than senior professors.

Salary compression was found to be widespread at the university, according to the study.

“Salary inversion occurs in departments of the College of Business and the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology,” the study reads. “Several other departments have compression ratios for associate professors that are close to 1.0, indicating serious salary compression.”

Weffer said the $500,000 is not going to address possible sex or race wage differences.

The study states there is a possibility for sex and race discrimination, but the conclusion cannot be made strongly.

An additional fund of 1% of the university’s total salary expenditure will go toward merit increases each year.

The contract states the merit increases will be determined by a Faculty Service Report conducted annually, in conjunction with the annual departmental evaluations.

The university would set aside $750,000 in a professional development fund for research and curricular improvements. The contract summary states the offer came after the UFA spoke at the Sept. 12 Board of Trustees meeting.

The union would receive layoff protections, the contract states. There are only two acceptable layoffs for union members: in the event of a declared financial need by the university or in the event of program discontinuation.

Weffer said the union negotiated these terms to prevent something like the layoffs that occurred at Western Illinois University during the state budget crisis. The Chicago Tribune reported Western Illinois University laid off 132 faculty members in March.

“We wanted to ensure there was a fair and equitable process,” Weffer said.

In the event of program discontinuation, the union would have a Program Elimination Review Committee tasked with advising the executive vice president and provost on programs being considered for elimination when a unionized faculty member would be at risk of losing their job.

The provost would provide the committee with a list of programs being considered for elimination 90 days before the elimination would result in the layoff of a unionized faculty member, the contract states. The committee would present its recommendations to the Board of Trustees’ Academic Affairs, Student Affairs and Personnel Committee meeting at least 30 days before the Board of Trustees would vote to remove the program.

The contract would establish an 18 credit hour equivalent maximum workload per academic year for unionized faculty. The university would pay at least $1,750 per credit hour for any overload teaching a unionized faculty accepts.

Weffer said this would prevent any selective teaching workloads.

“The language that the university had was basically something like, ‘in general, it’s 18 units,’” he said. “But what does that mean? Does that mean I get to teach 12 units because you like me, and you’re making [another professor] teach 24 because you don’t like [them]?”

The contract lists requirements for unionized faculty offices. The administration will not be able to relocate these faculty without “reasonable justification and notification.”

The contract includes a no-strike agreement by the union and a no-lockout agreement by the administration.

Weffer said negotiations for a new contract could start in summer 2021, or the union and administration could agree to renew the contract for another term.