Faculty union, NIU reach tentative agreement


Northern Star Staff

Northern Star File Photo

By Kierra Frazier

The United Faculty Alliance, a union representing tenured and tenure-track faculty, and the Board of Trustees have agreed on their first tentative contract after two years of bargaining.

A statement released Friday by the UFA stated members were glad the process was over so they can devote all their attention to students, classrooms and research.

{{tncms-inline alignment=”right” content=”<p><strong>What</strong>: Fall Board of Trustees meetings</p> <p><strong>When</strong>: 9 a.m. Nov. 14 and 9 a.m. Dec. 5</p> <p><strong>Where</strong>: Altgeld Hall, Room 315</p> <p><strong>Contact</strong>: [email protected]</p> <p>Interested parties can request to make an appearance before the board on NIU’s website.</p>” id=”db0e1d60-12ef-4f7e-9028-6b84bf9b9caa” style-type=”info” title=”Board of Trustees meetings” type=”relcontent”}}

“We believe that the agreement improves working conditions for tenure-track faculty and will allow them to continue to provide a high-quality education to NIU students,” the statement reads.

The university released a statement after the tentative contract was agreed on.

“We are pleased that Northern Illinois University and the United Faculty Alliance have reached a tentative agreement on an initial contract for NIU faculty. This agreement is subject to ratification by the union membership and the NIU Board of Trustees. We are pleased with reaching this important point in the negotiation process and look forward to the continued dedication of all parties involved,” the statement reads.

At a Sept. 12 Board of Trustees meeting, members of the union spoke to the board about a lack of a pay raise over 3% within the last 10 years, workloads and allegations of salary discrimination based on sex and race.

Union members have been negotiating for wage increases and fair workloads for professors.

Details of the tentative agreement were not provided because members still have to review the contract and hold a vote for ratification, according to the release.

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

The union and the administration established negotiation teams in 2016. It meets to decide what bargaining demands will be met and which ones will be denied, according to an Oct. 4, 2017, Northern Star article.

Before an agreement was made, Simón Weffer, the UFA chapter-representative said both of the negotiation teams had been working hard on reaching a tentative agreement.

“I think there’s been a lot of good progress,” Weffer said. “I think there’s a positive sentiment on both sides that we can get a fair contract.”

In a statement from the university, before an agreement was made, it said the administration looked forward to continuing negotiations and hoped for a swift and fair resolution.

“NIU shares the union’s desire to finalize a contract that meets the needs of both our faculty and the university,” the statement reads.

Weffer said it’s important for students to understand that the faculty is looking out for the students when it comes to contract negotiation.

“At the end of the day, [students] come here to learn from faculty,” Weffer said. “We want to make sure we can give [students] the best education that we can, and the best way to do that is through collective bargaining and collective action.”

Virginia Naples, former president of UFA and a biology professor, said she helped organize the UFA when it began. She said the formation started when faculty started to notice a decrease in the shared governance of the university.

“When the faculty working conditions deteriorate the way they have been, the students’ learning environment goes down,” Naples said. “It’s all very much tied together.”

In previous years, faculty strikes within higher education have seen a decline. There was a total of 14 faculty strikes with an average of 2 per year from 2012 to 2018, compared to a total of 172 faculty strikes with an average of 6 per year from 1966 to 1994, according to a study by researchers with the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions.

In April, the University of Illinois at Chicago Faculty Union reached a contract agreement with its administration after having plans to strike and over a year of bargaining, according to a press release on the UIC Faculty Union website. The contract included increased minimum salaries and upgraded job protections for non-tenure-track faculty.

Charitianne Williams, a member of the bargaining team of the UIC Faculty Union, said collective bargaining and unionization have impacted her teaching by giving her new security as a union member.

Williams said she considers union negotiation with the university to be positive.

“I have found the student body at UIC extremely supportive of the union and union actions, including when we took strike votes,” Williams said.

Updated 9/23 to include a statement from the university.