The Faculty Association and administration struck a tentative agreement on Friday, June 21 after bargaining since April 2018.
If ratified, the contract will include the majority of tenured or tenure-track faculty. Exceptions include faculty in the School of Pharmacy and School of Dental Medicine, as well as nursing department chairs.
Salaries were a key concern among faculty during negotiations, according to Tom Jordan, chief negotiator for the university.
“I think for a lot of faculty, there were concerns, obviously, about salary,” Jordan said. “People want to be compensated appropriately for the work that they do and so I think that was an issue that was important to both sides. The university wants to retain highly qualified faculty — it’s important for our programs; it’s important for our students — and the university has an interest in addressing those salary [concerns].”
Illinois Education Association Uniserve director Andrew Matthews said pay discrepancies between Edwardsville and Carbondale campuses were among salary concerns. While the agreement does not eradicate this issue, Matthews believes it provides a solid foundation for narrowing the gap in the future.
“This is an ongoing issue, the pay discrepancy between the two campuses. It’s my belief that the language of the economic proposal that we are putting before membership for a vote will make progress over the coming years towards narrowing that discrepancy,” Matthews said. “I think there is more progress to be made, but as far as an initial contract and trying to address that in a very proactive way, I do believe that this contract … sets the foundation to continue narrowing that gap over the coming years.”
Faculty Association president Kim Archer said the contract stands at more than 100 pages and addresses many other concerns, including workload, benefits and academic freedom. While Archer recognizes the contract cannot be perfect to all Faculty Association members, she believes it is fair to everyone involved.
“The thing about a contract is that it can’t be everything to everyone, but it is, in my estimation, a fair contract for the entire faculty,” Archer said. “That’s a huge accomplishment, so I’m pleased.”
On the other side, Jordan said one of the administration’s key goals in negotiating the agreement was to establish clear guidelines.
“I think the biggest thing that we wanted was a clear set of rules,” Jordan said. “This is a contract; both sides are coming together and agreeing that there will be a set of rules, a set of procedures and a very particular way to do things, and that’s easiest to accomplish when the language is clear … and everyone understands exactly what the other is supposed to do.”
Jordan said the parties had the opportunity to re-evaluate existing policies and make changes where needed while drafting the contract. Once the contract is ratified, the policies outlined in the contract will become legally enforceable.
“So many of the things that are in the contract, which has not yet been ratified, were largely taken from existing policies,” Jordan said. “In doing so, we had an opportunity to look at all the policies that governed faculty and to think about ‘Which are the ones that are working well? Which are the ones that could be modified? Are there opportunities for improvement? Do we want to do something different moving forward, or would we like to keep it the same?’”
As a result of this, Matthews said the contract brought consistency among departments, which he believes will improve morale among impacted faculty.
“There’s a lot more clarity on things like overloads and summer workload,” Matthews said. “Workload itself is an area where there’s a lot of variation. It’s a lot of those areas where, in the past, it wasn’t done consistently, I’d say. One department might feel one way and another may feel another way and this provides a little more clarity on how we handle it across the board.”
Archer said she believes this increase in morale will translate to a more positive student experience.
“There’s a saying among teachers’ unions that ‘Teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions,’ and we’ve been under so much stress with the budget impasse and feeling that things weren’t always moving in the direction that we wanted them to,” Archer said. “I think the morale among the faculty is likely to improve once we implement this.”
Upon being certified as a union by the Illinois Education Labor Relations board in December 2016, the Faculty Association filed a demand to bargain. In March 2017, negotiations began for a smaller contract, which was signed on Dec. 13, 2017. Unlike the new tentative agreement, the smaller contract only addressed salaries and grievances.
While the small contract was in place, Jordan said the new tentative agreement is treated like an initial contract.
“I think the biggest challenge in the negotiations really was the fact that this is what we’re calling the initial contract,” Jordan said. “It’s not technically the first contract … but the one that was just finished and is yet to be ratified is the one where we tackled all the big issues: workload, benefits and salaries, and I think the biggest challenge was just the scope of the project, which meant these negotiations lasted a really long time, not unexpectedly.”
Archer estimates the Faculty Association will gather to ratify the contract sometime in August. At that time, the Faculty Association may not make changes to the agreement and because the agreement made it to the tentative stage, the administration is assumed to have already ratified it.
“The membership is legally not allowed to say ‘We like everything except these two sentences in article whatever,’” Archer said. “They have to do either an up or down vote on it, and if [the membership votes to ratify it], the contract goes into force once the president of the SIU system and I sign it, and if the membership does a non-ratification vote, then we go back to the table and basically start over.”
If the Faculty Association ratifies the contract, Archer will sign it as the Faculty Association representative, followed by interim system president Kevin Dorsey.
Even though this new contract has not yet been ratified, Archer said she feels it’s a huge accomplishment, and so does National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García, who wrote a congratulatory email to Archer following the tentative agreement being reached.
“I know it has been a long road since 2016 when you were first certified as a local [union] but it is clear that your collective hard work over the past 27 months has paid off,” García said in the email. “Please convey my congratulations and appreciation to all of the SIUE-FA for your success. NEA looks forward to hearing about the great things you do.”
For more information on the Faculty Association’s affairs, visit https://siuefa.wordpress.com/.