Officials explain pitfalls of faculty unionization

By Mark Mazzone

NIU President John La Tourette and a representative of the Board of Regents said Tuesday that the effects of the proposed unionization of the NIU tenured faculty are not as clear-cut as some people believe.

La Tourette said the unionized campuses in Illinois have smaller salaries and support budgets than NIU, Southern Illinois University and University of Illinois.

“Those institutions that have a comprehensive mission are less well-served by collective bargaining,” he said.

Additionally, La Tourette said he thinks unionization might have a negative impact on the university in the long-run.

“I don’t think that you are going to be able to attract as high-quality faculty in the long-run,” he said.

La Tourette said this would be because NIU attempts to hire faculty versatile enough to teach at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, as well as be involved in scholarship and research.

He said under collective bargaining there is a tendency to use salary schedules exclusively, without figuring merit pay into salaries.

La Tourette also said after collective bargaining is introduced to a new university, a period of dispute follows during which the university and the union decide what falls under the jurisdiction of collective bargaining.

“I hear a lot of statements that, through collective bargaining, they are going to be able to dispute the mission of the institution and the makeup of its programs,” he said.

“Those things are not part of collective bargaining. They are determined by boards, legislatures and governors.”

“There is a possibility that the institution could be set back enormously, given the impact of another major disruption to the fabric of shared governance,” La Tourette said.

Steve Cunningham, assistant vice chancellor for personnel administration for the Regents, said he agrees that tenured faculty should carefully consider whether they want to be unionized.

“It’s been my experience that faculty unions seek to maximize their role,” Cunningham said. “The union has priorities of its own, which may or may not be consistent with those of the individual faculty members they represent.”

Cunningham also said students might be affected by unionization during times of contract negotiation because attention is diverted away from the students and the possibility of strike


Mitch Vogel, president of University Professionals of Illinois (UPI), said the union’s emphasis is on organizing the non-tenured faculty.

“After we win the election, we will start negotiating immediately,” Vogel said.

The election, a referendum type of vote on whether to designate UPI as the exclusive bargaining agent for the non-tenured faculty, cannot occur until UPI turns in signed cards from 30 percent of the faculty to the Illinois Labor Board.

“It is our plan not to turn the cards in until we get 50 percent,” Vogel said.