Saturday, April 26, 2014

First thoughts on the contract and the vote

The UIC United Faculty Union voted to ratify the contract, claiming around 97% support of those who voted, but with no mention of how many union members voted or how many members of the bargaining unit are union members.  The contracts can be found here:  Tenure-Track [TT], Non-Tenure-Track [NTT], and an addendum to the NTT contract.  The contract, as I understand, still has to be approved by the Board of Trustees.  I suspect that that approval is largely a formality, but we'll see.

I did not read the TT contract and I have not read the entire NTT contract, although I have read portions of it and attended one of the union's two informational meetings.  I had to leave that meeting early, after the presentation of what was in the contract but before the question-and-answer portion of the meeting was finished.  Because the union requested no public comment on the contract until after the ratification vote, I have not commented until now.

I voted for the contract.  I went into the vote and informational meeting almost completely decided to vote for it.  After having criticized the union and the university for bringing the situation to the brink of an indefinite strike, a vote against the contract might very well have been a vote for a strike. 

One thing I'll say is that the presentation did not mention whether those of us who self-reported our absence for the two-day strike will have our pay docked.  (However, this may have been addressed in the question-and-answer session, which I had to leave early.)  To be clear, I do not think I should be paid for those days.  I did not work those days, and although I am nominally an exempt employee, my standard workweek is usually around 40 hours and that particular week I worked only about 24 hours.  But I would like to know whether or when to expect the deduction from my regular pay. 

As to "shared governance," it's unclear to me how the agreement will affect that aspect of university life.  One reason it's unclear is that I just know too little of how "shared governance" already works at UIC.

As to "faculty governance," which might be a similar creature to "shared governance," this agreement's effect will probably be department-specific.  I imagine in some departments we might very well see a more adversarial situation to validate the fears of the authors at the No Faculty Union blog.  In some departments, we'll probably see something different and more constructive.  I understand also that the contract includes some acknowledgement of faculty and departmental prerogatives when it comes to course curricula, but I have little to say about that. 

I imagine most members of the bargaining unit tend to benefit in some substantive way.  The minimum for "full time" NTT's is increased from $30,000 to $37,500, for example.  And while that falls short of the $45,000 the union originally sought, it strikes me as quite a raise for those so affected.

I would still like to know what "full-time" means in that regard--were those in the "full-time" category who were paid $30,000 working "only" two semesters at 2 courses a semester?  Or were they year-round employees teaching more courses?  The contract states that the bargaining unit includes "[a]ll full-time (i.e. employees who have 0.51 or greater appointment as a faculty member)...."  That statement suggests a pretty broad definition of "full time" that might make the comparisons during the organizing effort to the starting salaries of "full time" faculty elsewhere in Chicago a bit like apples and oranges.  Or maybe not.  Maybe the other universities count "full time" in the same way.

There is some language about re-appointment and multi-year contracts that seems to be beneficial for a large number of NTT's.  It appears uncertain how or whether or to what extent that language will be implemented and enforced by the union.  But the end result will probably mean that a very large number of NTT instructors will have additional security on the job, especially if this contract is not a one-off, but the first of several contracts to be negotiated over a series of years.

It is unclear how this language affects those with "visiting" appointments.  The contract [p. 10] says all visiting appointments are to be for one year and appointments for greater than one year (which I assume includes also visiting "re-appointments") "should be utilized to meet unpredicted or unexpected staffing needs."

When that provision was announced at the informational meeting, several members cheered and clapped.  If you had asked them why, I assume each would have said that this provision prevents the university from simply reappointing someone to "visiting" positions and thereby forgoing its responsibility to make a long-term commitment to its employees.  But I suggest that they're also cheering a policy, the practical result of which might be the discharge of at least a few people currently in "visiting" positions.

Or maybe not.  There's some language in the following paragraphs [p. 11] that suggest some people "may have an expectation" of re-appointment, and although that language does not seem to refer to "visiting appointments," it might be so interpreted in the contract's implementation.  (Whatever the applicability, I'll add that the modal auxiliary "may" suggests something like the status quo ante because it implies discretion.  It is not "shall" or a simple, non-modalized declarative sentence.)

I should self-disclose now that I'm in a visiting position, and I stand therefore to be affected by this new phrasing.  I'm not particularly upset by it.  If it's unfair, it's not peculiarly unfair, but unfair only in the way that the vicissitudes of life and employment and allocation of resources are unfair.  And it's not entirely clear that it will affect me negatively.  It might affect me positively.

I promise not to turn this blog into a forum on my personal job prospects.  But I bring up the issue for two reasons.

First, I think my readers need to know what I perceive my interest in the outcome to be.  I believe I have been very clear about this perceived interest throughout this blog's short history.  But I think if people know where I'm coming from, they can better judge the biases in my own position.  Knowing those biases is particularly important because I blog pseudonymously and because of the type of evidence I use on this blog.  Most of my evidence tends to be of the anecdotal variety, or it tends to focus on my "sense" of what others believe or my own interpretation on what is said or written.  My readers therefore deserve to know.

Second and less selfishly, I want to remind those who support the union that there exists--at least potentially--a margin along which the mostly good thing that is the union contract might hurt some people.

It's like the arguments used against increases in the minimum wage.  A business owner who employees 100 persons at minimum wage might, after the wage is increased, find that he or she can afford to keep on only a certain number.  If that number is 50, then the increase is probably a bad thing.  If that number is 99, then the increase is probably a good thing overall.  But it's still bad for the one person now unemployed.  Even then, it's possible that the higher incomes of the other 99 people and people elsewhere might inject more money in the economy, and thereby trickle down (or to put it less polemically, trickle out) to the unfortunate person who loses his or her job.  At any rate, the republic will still stand and business will, it is to be hoped, recover eventually.

Finally and to cap off this long blog post, I should say congratulations to those who supported the union and organized for a contract.  Most of them, I am sure, sincerely believe that the union and a contract were and are the right thing.  They put a lot of unremunerated and probably mostly thankless time and effort to bring about this result.  They focused (mostly) on real problems, and with some exceptions, they kept the most extreme rhetoric in check.  The members with whom I actually shared my concerns listened without judgment.  One person in particular knows my identity and as far as I know has honored my wish not to be identified.  He or she also followed through for updates on how I was feeling about the whole process.

And at the end of the day, the efforts of the union supporters might very well prove beneficial to the university.


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