NIU instructors, faculty picket after no-show contract negotiation

Members of tenured and non-tenured track unions at NIU picketed Wednesday as bargaining talks stall.

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Wes Sanderson

Members of UPI Local 4100, picketing outside of Altgeld Hall Wednesday after NIU officials ceased negotiations with non-tenured instructors earlier this month and have not begun bargaining talks with tenure faculty. Members of both non-tenure and tenure gathered around a table, which signified the university’s absence from bargaining talks. UPI Local 4100 represents members of tenured and non-tenured track faculty at NIU, around 750 faculty are members of UPI, Local 4100. (Wes Sanderson| Northern Star)

DeKALB – “Workers Unite, Workers Unite,” chanted a group of NIU instructors and faculty members who gathered in protest at 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday outside of Altgeld Hall. They carried posters and marched outside of the hall, demanding NIU meet with them. 

The protest was organized after a meeting between NIU and the University Professionals of Illinois (UPI) Local 4100, the union for non-tenured instructors who are rehired every semester. Five minutes into the meeting, NIU’s bargaining team left, said Keith Nyquist, the president of NIU’s UPI chapter. 

The purpose of the meeting was to negotiate toward a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. UPI members have been working without a bargaining agreement since it expired on June 30.

The university left negotiations because the UPI bargaining team invited members of the United Faculty Alliance, the teachers union for tenured and tenured-track faculty to participate in the meeting. This did not meet NIU’s standard practices, according to a statement from NIU.

“The central issue is who can be at the negotiation table,” Nyquist said. “We’re ready to begin bargaining.”

NIU non-tenured English instructor Dan Libman walks with a sign saying “NIU we miss you” during Wednesday’s IFT and UPI informational picket outside of Altgeld Hall. Libman has been an instructor since 1998 and said he’s never seen the university walk away from the bargaining table until this go around. The picket comes after university officials walked away from non-tenure negotiations and have refused to begin tenure contract negotiations. (Wes Sanderson | Northern Star) (Wes Sanderson)

Several instructors at NIU turned out to protest and demand that anyone from UPI is given the ability to join the negotiation table. One of them was Lori Lawson, an instructor of English at NIU.

“NIU is trying to say who can represent us,” Lawson said. 

Lawson, who has seen multiple contract negotiations during her time at NIU, noted that this is the first time that NIU has ceased negotiations in this manner. Lawson also stressed the importance of instructors at NIU.

“Instructors are key,” Lawson said. “We teach the bulk of freshman and sophomore classes, that’s three to four classes per semester, and they’re generally bigger. It’s very demanding in terms of grading and the freshmen and sophomores will be left behind if they can’t take their core courses.”

Lawson made it clear that the priorities of the instructors and UPI are their students. UPI, at this time, isn’t considering doing classroom walkouts or disrupting the education of students, Lawson said. 

Alongside the instructors, members of UFA showed up in solidarity. Members of UFA also want to have people outside of their bargaining team present at negotiation meetings. 

One of the faculty members protesting was James Burton, a professor of management, who wants negotiations to proceed for UPI and UFA, especially since UFA’s collective bargaining agreement is set to expire on June 30, 2022. 

“I’m worried that the same thing could happen to us,” Burton said. 

As the protest continued, the gathered teachers stopped chanting outside of Altgeld and began to march, chanting and making their voices heard. 

“We want NIU instructors to be compensated adequately so that NIU can be a great place to work,” said Andy Bruno, a history professor at NIU.