Saturday, April 12, 2014

On the twoness of contracts and inherent conflicts of interest

I noted in my last post that the union appears to be negotiating two contracts and not one.  I don't know all the in's and out's of that and why the union and university are doing it that way.  I suspect the union would prefer to have one large contract--to be One Big Union--but for legal reasons has to settle for the two-contract approach.  One contract is for NTT's [non-tenure track] and the other is for TT's [tenure-track]. 

In that post, I called the union to task, saying (in a typically vague passive-voice construction) "more acknowledgment could have been given upfront about this distinction" between NTT and TT contracts.  I think I am right to be bit peeved that the union does not seem to have been as upfront about this as I would have preferred.  It's a "united faculty" but being united in this case can mean one faction striking for the interests of the other, or each faction negotiating alongside each other but for very different things.

But I have to admit that I can't blame the union for everything.  I ought to take responsibility for Googling my own knowledge.  I also have to admit that the two-contract approach challenges my notion about the inherent conflict of interest in the union.  For if there are two contracts, one tailored to NTT concerns and the other to TT concerns, then the conflict of interests between NTT and TT is not as bad as I had thought.

At least that's true when it comes to the contract.  It's less true when it comes to union organization and when it comes to actually working in the bargaining unit.  If the union strikes again, as it might on April 23, it will be the entire union, NTT's and TT's.  If, say, an NTT crosses the lines and thereby angers that set of TT's who exercise in some ways a supervisory function over the NTT, then the fact that separate contracts are being negotiated does only a little to palliate potentially bad consequences for the NTT.  I do assume that if NTT's win a contract, it would be harder to fire them for arbitrary reasons, and the NTT part of the union could defend the NTT from arbitrary firing.  But there's little else to repair the potential rift that crossing the line could raise.

(I'll repeat here what I've always said.  The TT's in my corner of UIC do not strike me as the retaliatory type.  Indeed, they strike me as fair-minded and not given to punishing others for not siding with them on this issue.  I would be very surprised, indeed, if they did not know and understand the difficult situation of an NTT who dissents from the union.  Also, those people who have the most direct "supervisory" authority over me seem to me to be particularly fair-minded and I trust their fairness.)

Perhaps by focusing on conflicts of interest and "people who exercise in some ways a supervisory function," I am misconceiving the nature of my work.  Perhaps I am focusing too much on the "job" aspect and not enough on the "career" or "professional" aspects of what I currently do for a living.  Conflicts of interest and supervisory functions are more characteristic of "jobs" than of the career-centered and profession-centered commitments implied by the term "faculty."  Perhaps I should just chill out and roll with what appears to be the clear majority of my fellow faculty members and the almost unanimous majority of union members.

But I ask my readers to keep in mind that unions by their very nature privilege the "job" aspect over the career or profession aspects.  The traditional model of unions is based on jobs-consciousness.  I'm not going to say it's impossible for someone to be both a professional and a worker.  I do believe one can be both.  And I'm not going to lay the blame entirely on the union.  The UIC administration seems determined--either by design or by incompetence or by a too narrow focus on short-term costs over long-term planning--to make the union's case for it, to make the case that only a contract can ensure a minimal level of fair treatment, and to make the case that at least the NTT's ought to look at their position more and more as a "job" than as a career or a profession. 

But whoever is to blame, the conflict of interest exists and the "job" aspect of NTT's position, reinforced in my opinion by the union, makes the conflict something to be considered.  My concerns so far are theoretical.  I don't see the conflict in practice so much as I see it on paper.  But if last-minute contracts and appeals to arbitration don't work and a strike happens, NTT's will be asked to strike for themselves but also for others very differently situated.

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