Saturday, April 12, 2014

What the UIC United Faculty Union is doing right

I've spent a lot of time on this blog criticizing the union.  Sometimes, I fear, it looks like to hear me, the union can do nothing right.  If the union wants "a" contract for "its" members, that's a conflict of interest.  If it wants two separate contracts for each of its major units, then that too is a conflict.  Or if the union relies too much on the "billion dollars in 'profits'" claim, it is being too simplistic.  If it admitted that funding decisions are not as simple as the claim implies, I would probably say something like "see, even the union admits that the 'profits' claim is wrong." 

There are some things, however, that the union is doing right.  And I'd like to note a few of them.

First, its members do seem sincerely concerned about the effect any strike will have on the students.  I hope it's not too much a violation of my pledge not to relate the content of union meetings if I relate some observations from the last meeting where April 23 was adopted as the date for a next strike if negotiations fail and UIC refuses to arbitrate.  The members were in my opinion very concerned how that strike might harm students.  This concern was more than "how will this look in the media," too.  People seemed really bothered by the fact that what might happen will harm students.  I personally believe overwhelming majority of the people at that meeting were mistaken that a strike is nevertheless worth the cost, and I was one of the very few who raised my hand against the plan.  But they recognize and regret the cost, and they aren't pursuing their measures flippantly.  That's all a subjective judgment on my part, so my readers will just have to take my word for it.

Second and for all my talk about conflicts of interest--and I believe the conflicts are real--the tenure track faculty [TT] seem to be willing to walk the talk when it comes to supporting the non-tenure-track faculty [NTT].  We'll see what actually happens and whether at the last minute the university might not successfully buy them off with a deal as long as they agree to let the NTT's negotiate for themselves (which, I guess, is in a sense what I want.....but see above about "to hear me, the union can do nothing right").  But as of now, they seem to sincerely support the NTT's.  I suspect that many of them see the TT part of the union as necessary to help the least well off, the NTT's.  And for all my concern about NTT's having to strike for TT's, it's also quite apparent that TT's are as a whole willing to strike for NTT's.

Third, the union as a whole and many of its more outspoken members see the contract as a way eventually to improve student experience.  I have a lot of doubts about that and fear a union, once established, will function as yet another claim on the already too-high tuition dollars that students have to pay.  It might become just a way to protect its members jobs, which unions do best because that's what they're designed to do.  But it is quite possible that I'm wrong and that the union could, say, compel a more meaningful conversation about redirecting the union's priorities.

Fourth and on a more individual level, the union has not been aggressive with me.  When I signed up with the union in January, I had to go out of my way to ask the steward for the union card.  And I've known one person in particular who has gone out of his or her way to listen to and relate many of my concerns to others.  He or she may not agree with me, and especially not with my more recent and punchy (once you get past my convoluted writing style) blog posts.  But he or she has been respectful of what I've been saying, and for that I'm grateful.

Again, I think the union is mistaken.  And as of now, I do not know what I'll do when or if a strike is called on April 23. I can say that for all my disagreements with the union, I will be satisfied (albeit still critical) if a strike can be avoided with a contract the union finds acceptable.


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