Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Scott, and rumors of Scott

The union's latest announcement, "Debunking the Myths," argues against recent statements and offers from the administration.   I have little to say about most of their points, except that at first blush, the university's offer to tenure-track professors of a raise for the first two years of the contract (last year and this year), with no raise for the third year (next year), seem to me reasonable.  Read the administration's update here to see if you agree.

There are other points that may or may not have merit.  I'm skeptical.  And there's seems to be a little sleight of hand when it comes to equating the university's multi-year contracts with vendors to the union's proposed multi-year contracts for non-tenured track people.  Their jab at comparing UIC to Walmart, while not new, is disappointing.  I do feel for those who are full-time instructors and make only $30,000, and for the record, I make about 30% more than that.  I would like to know how many full-time instructors actually make that lower figure.  The union, to my knowledge, hasn't stated the number or percentage of such workers.  I'd also like to know whether there are some workers whom the university would decline to keep on if the minimum salary were raised.  Let's say the university can afford to pay 10 full-time instructors at $30,000, but can afford to pay only 9 full-time instructors at, say, $40,000.  Maybe the math doesn't add up, and maybe the university's surplus "profits" could well cover the spread at any rate.  Still, I wouldn't want to be the tenth person in that group.

In this post, however, I am much more concerned about the following statement made by the union: 
UIC Admin demands Scott Walker “fair share” proposal that is unlike language in any other contract they have, or that exists in Illinois. They propose a monthly membership check. While we have a good majority, the Admin’s proposal serves no legitimate purpose, and is anti-union, plain and simple. If the union were ever to lose majority status, the law allows the faculty to vote the union out. The Admin’s proposal is unnecessary and acrimonious.
This "Scott Walker 'fair share' proposal" is, I understand both from this statement and the administration's recent message cited above, a provision in the contract that says if the union's membership at any point falls below 50% of the bargaining unit, then the fair share provision will not apply.  This all would take away the automatic dues checkoff from those who choose not to join the union (again, provided that the union's membership falls below 50% of the bargaining unit).  This provision could also have the collateral effect of permitting the university to in practice de-fund and de-certify the union by, say, hiring more contingent faculty whom the union would then need to recruit, or requiring the union to re-recruit members if the membership expires.  (I have no idea if membership expires, but it wouldn't surprise me if cards might have to be re-signed periodically.)

I don't in principle oppose fair share provisions.  In principle, I would go even further and support "agency shop" provisions, in which all covered employees pay union dues and not merely "fair share" dues.  (My understanding is that "fair share" dues are smaller than actual union dues.  If I'm correct, the "fair share" dues go to the parent union whereas the full union dues go to both the parent union and the local.  On this issue especially I stand to be corrected if I'm wrong.)  I also believe the union is right when it says the proposal is "unnecessary and acrimonious."  The administration ought to know how the proposal would be received.  And even though I have my doubts that no such contract exists in all of Illinois, it is certainly out of the norm.  If the administration is really concerned about the shadow group of people in the bargaining unit who  disagree with the union, then a decertification election is the right way to go.  As a member of that shadow group, even I believe that.

But it is wrong to compare the administration's proposal to Scottwalkerism.  Mr. Walker's reform, as I understand it, outlawed fair share provisions entirely.  In fact, my understanding is that it outlawed most public unions.  And truth be told, if the union is indeed as strong as its proponents say it is, then the "fair share" proposal, while indeed unnecessary, is not the death knell of the union.  I can even imagine a scenario where the administration's proposal might strengthen the union.  If people looking at their paychecks feel distraught over the charges, the union can claim it is always accountable to its membership in a way that few unions are. 

I don't want to be too sanguine about the way this proposal might help the union.  But I do urge the union not to make this proposal an issue that makes the university's contract proposal a non-starter.  It's not Scottwalkerism, and by itself it's not worth striking over.

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