Temporary faculty seek union support

By Mark McGowan

More than 200 of NIU’s temporary faculty are telling the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board they want union representation at the bargaining table.

Mitch Vogel, president of the University Professionals of Illinois, said temporary faculty who want UPI bargaining support signed cards authorizing UPI to hold the bargaining power. The cards were delivered this morning.

However, the Board of Regents, NIU’s governing body, must first recognize the deal before any bargaining can begin.

“They (the Regents) have been treating these people like second- and third-class citizens for decades now,” Vogel said. “I’m not all that optimistic” the Regents will voluntarily recognize the request, he said.

If the Regents do not accept the partnership, UPI will take the case to the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board for approval. An election will be held before the end of the semester, Vogel said. If the union wins, bargaining will begin immediately.

Vogel said he thinks the Regents might try to stall the election, although it must occur within 30 days.

Vogel and representatives from NIU’s non-tenured faculty will take questions tonight at 6:30 p.m. at the Days Inn, 1212 W. Lincoln Hwy.

The temporary faculty want to bargain with NIU over salary, job security and health benefits. Vogel said NIU has an “archaic” rule which keeps temporary faculty from working for more than five years.

“We have a group of employees with no raises for five years,” Vogel said.

Darlene Whitkanack, a temporary faculty member in the math department, favors the UPI support. “We felt it was time to get someone who would help us represent our claims in a professional and dignified manner,” she said.

Whitkanack said the temporary faculty just want their fair shake from the university and have no intention to strike. She said NIU is inconsistent in the way it handles non-tenure track instructors.

Many temporary faculty, who have to sign contracts with NIU each year, leave in the spring not knowing if they’ll return in the fall or what they might teach, leaving inadequate time to prepare.

“As long as the job is available, people who have done a good job should be able to keep that job,” Whitkanack said.

The math department lost two good temporary instructors to full-time junior college teaching spots, she said. Also, Whitkanack added, temporary faculty are taking on more students than full-time teachers, especially at the freshman and sophomore levels.

But the No. 1 priority is medical benefits, she said. “It can be frightening when a lien is put on your house because the state is not paying the medical bills,” Whitkanack said.

Last spring, NIU temporary faculty pushed for a representative council of their own, separate from the University Council to make their voices heard. However, the drive for union support is not a function of the council, Whitkanack said.

Still, despite the Council of Temporary Faculty, Whitkanack said non-tenure track teachers were passed over at budget hearings: “You saw where the cuts were,” she said.

Since temporary faculty at Western Illinois University joined the union, they saw a 5 percent increase in salary, found job security and got pay adjustments for underpaid temporary instructors.

Whitkanack said the WIU temporary faculty were supported by UPI but worked the new contract out themselves. “They were the people who negotiated,” she said.

UPI represents permanent and temporary faculty at six of Illinois’ 10 public universities.