Thursday, April 17, 2014

The union and reconciliation

It appears that the union and the administration have reached a tentative agreement.  It now needs to be ratified by both sides.  I do not know the terms and until I do and until they're made generally public, I'm not going to comment on them.  But I will probably vote for the contract unless there's some "let's ostracize the UICUF Dissenter" clause.  It is important to accept peace and try to work with the union instead of merely to dissent from it, as I have done.*

Whatever the right and wrong of the union and the contract--and I believe there is some right along with the wrong--it seems to me that a clear majority of the faculty support the union and a decisive majority of those support the track the union has chosen to follow.  And that track, far from being the most militant possible, has been mild and generally accepting of others' dissenting views.  I have had to temper my criticisms of the union with an acknowledgment that it was usually willing endorse civility over confrontation.  There were exceptions, but they were few and probably to be expected.

I still have my fears about what a contract might do.  Some departments on campus are getting ready for possible budget cuts in case the legislature doesn't renew the income tax increase from a few years ago.  (It is a strange thing to have one's job depend at least partially on the taxation of others who might not wish to pay.)  Will the contract mean that some NTT [non-tenure-track faculty] can't get their position renewed, not from "retaliation," but because the hiring units might fear a loss of income or, if multi-year contracts are in the new agreement, the financial commitment from renewal?  To be clear, those risks or something like them are always present in any job.  Scarcity is always with us.  And I really can't begrudge the much larger number of faculty whose jobs are, frankly, more obviously important to UIC's educational mission than mine and who stand to keep their jobs regardless.  I'm not indulging in false modesty, but just stating what I believe to be a fact.

And I believe that even a strong supporter of the union should take time to consider the storm that might have happened.  Unions are predicated on the notion that workplace relations are in part a power struggle.  And a strike would have been a power struggle.  I would urge those supporters to be glad that they did not have to play their part in exacting the cost of a strike.  If there had been a strike (and I of course am assuming now that there won't be....I hope I'm right), it would not have been wholly the doing of the union, which in many was responding as one might expect to the administration's proposals.  But it would have been an action undertaken by the union.

During the lead up to this week, there has been some talk by union supporters that "UIC depends on us" and "we have the power."  That's probably true.  But sometimes it's a thin line between "we are right and we are strong" and "we are right because we are strong."  The possibility that the view might shade into the other can never be avoided.  But it should be kept in mind.

But I don't come away with clean hands, either.  I have tried to avoid unnecessary hyperbole and to see things from the union's point of view.  But sometimes I have been very quick to seize on the least charitable interpretation of what the union has said.  Even my decision to blog publicly rather than keep my reservations private or within the union could have functioned to undermine it.

I will say, however, that other than making my reservations public, I have done much of what the union has asked of me.  I have signed a card, I walked out on the two-day strike, I joined the picket lines and attended the noisy rallies (and in my middle-age I am really bothered by loud noises).  I even reported my absence on those days, so my pay stands (probably justly) to be docked unless the new contract provides for payment for those days.

I hope that the contract is the end of this long struggle and that the union and Board of Trustees find it good enough to agree to and avoid a strike.  I do intend to keep my membership active, even if the fair share payment is lower than the union dues.  And as much as I like to be proven right about things, I hope subsequent developments prove me wrong and the union is a force for good at UIC.

*And since this blog has about 355 page views and about 320 of those come from my ISP address, I have to assume very few people in the union are aware of it, unless of course, someone in the neighborhood is stealing my wi-fi just so they can log on to read this blog.

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