Groups continue debate over unionization

By Peter Schuh

Officials representing Professors for Shared Governance and the University Professionals of Illinois hold contradictory views as to how faculty unionization could affect NIU students.

Faculty members will vote on April 21 whether to unite in a collective bargaining system under the sole representation of UPI. This decision could have great effects on NIU’s shared governance system and academic reputation, which will affect NIU’s present and future students.

“A lot of us are concerned about the students and how the students would be affected by collective bargaining,” PROF-S member Neil Rickert said.

He said he felt a decision to unionize would have little effect on NIU’s current students but would have a larger effect on future students through the union’s intervention in a gradual lowering of program quality at NIU.

PROF-S has cited the lower percentage of faculty raises compared to NIU at the unionized Board of Governors universities, in addition to Sangamon State University, as an example of how a union will affect NIU.

“I’m hoping there will not be a strike,” Rickert said. “A strike will have a very adverse effect on the students.”

NIU-UPI President Kevin McKeough argued unionization of NIU’s faculty would have a favorable effect on NIU students. “I think it will benefit the students in many ways,” he said.

“Part of our agreement is to add money to the Northern budget specifically for tuition increases,” McKeough said. “That should presumably release pressures to keep raising tuition.

“If we have a unionized faculty we will be listened to better than a non-unionized faculty because we would be recognized as part of a state-wide network,” he added.

However, Rickert has criticized UPI’s ability to persuade the state legislature. “The state legislature gives out the money and if the union were to bargain with them they would simply laugh in their face,” he said.

McKeough’s response to Rickert’s claim was, “What’s their (PROF-S) evidence?”

He also argued UPI would have a better long-term effect on NIU and would therefore benefit the students.

“To the extent that we (UPI) have any success in raising dollars that should raise the university’s ability for bringing in and retaining better faculty and that should help students,” he said.

Kathy Makaras, a freshman accounting major who investigated the union issue as a representative of the Student Association, said, “It may have a positive or negative effect, but it depends on what happens if they unionize.

“Both sides (UPI and PROF-S) are saying the exact opposite things,” she added. “It’s very difficult to tell what’s right.”

Makaras said although a unionization of NIU’s faculty in itself will not affect NIU students, the students “are just going to have to watch it. The big problem with a union is the students are going to have to keep on top of everything at the bargaining table. The SA will have to have a lot of people to keep an eye on the union to make sure the students’ interests are upheld.”