Thursday, November 19, 2015

(Another) status update

It appears I am now a member of the bargaining unit. My last paycheck had the automatic fair share deduction taken out.

This is not actually a surprise. There are a lot of complicated details I won't go into, but enough has changed at work that it's perfectly reasonable that I'm in the bargaining unit now when I wasn't before, even though I had for a time mistakenly believed I was.

As I've said in the past, I'm not opposed in principle to paying fair share dues even though I am no longer a formal member of the union and even though I do not wish to endorse the union by becoming a member. (I had signed a card but have also terminated my membership and asked for my card back, which the heads of the UIC United Faculty Union did courteously and promptly.) If I receive the benefits of membership, I feel a personal obligation to pay.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Status update

Well, it seems mostly settled that I'm not in the bargaining unit after all. I recently rescinded my membership in the union, and when I did so was informed that I was not a member of the unit in the first place. (Still, the leadership promised to honor my request to leave the union and promised to return the card I had signed.)

On one level, this news is a bit disturbing. I had been told much earlier that I was a member of the bargaining unit. I participated in the two-day strike because I thought I was a member of the unit. If I understand correctly, someone who walks off the job in a labor dispute and who is not a member of the bargaining unit can be fired. It's also disturbing because I was allowed to vote on the contract. Finally, it could mean that I was inadvertently lying when I claimed to be a member of the bargaining unit.

On another level, it's not quite as disturbing as it seems. Dues have never been deducted from my paycheck, so I haven't had to pay. Also, I do believe that those who told me I was a member of the bargaining unit did so in good faith. I am in a marginal position.  By marginal I don't mean "marginalized" (being full time, I'm definitely better advantaged than many NTT's), but I mean "on the margin between member and non-member of the bargaining unit." It's likely that the question of whether the small number of people like me are in the bargaining unit has been a point of interpretation. It's also possible that I was in the bargaining unit at the time of the strike and at the time the contract was voted on, but wasn't when my contract was removed.

I may still comment from time to time on UIC United Faculty matters. One reason is that as a citizen, I'm interested in how things turn out. Another reason is that whether or not I'm a member of the bargaining unit, I am still affected by what the union does, for good and for ill. When my contract was renewed last year, I got a pay increase. It's possible that increase was a result of the fact that a union is on campus. However, my usual fears about the union making it more expensive to hire people and making it more difficult (albeit perhaps only marginally more difficult, given other non-union challenges to the university's budget) for me to keep my job remain. For example, as I noted in a prior post, visiting appointments like mine seem disfavored by the contract:

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.
As I've said before, if this situation is unfair, it's not peculiarly unfair, and I've gotten my share of advantages from the way things work. That said, I believe I'm correct to say that on balance, the union does not represent my immediate interests. For that reason and for reasons stated elsewhere on this blog, from other observations I have not noted, and from a private conversation with one other union member, I decline to support the union.

Therefore, I have done the following:
  1. I have changed the blog lede from "a voice of loyal opposition" to "a voice of opposition."
  2. I have rescinded my signed support for the union. I decided on this even before I found out I was no longer a member of the bargaining unit.
  3. I have unsubscribed myself from the online forum on which union matters are discussed. I actually did this several months ago. And I did so because I did not want to risk learning something confidential and inadvertently blogging about it.
  4. For similar reasons, I have decided to no longer go to union meetings, not that I can, not being a member of the bargaining unit. Occasionally I must attend faulty meetings at which union matters are discussed. In those cases, I probably will not absent myself from that part of those meetings.
I do believe that those who support the UICUF sincerely believe it's a good thing. I disagree and believe they are mistaken. But I wish them no ill-will.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


I have often criticized the UIC United Faculty Union's website. My main criticism stands. It is inaccessible and seems designed to discourage people from viewing it, and it essentially erases the union's pre-website history. It is very hard to find statements online made by the union from its older website(s), and I have not found any statement from the union explaining why it has, apparently, erased its past statements, or even acknowledging it has done so. It may not be the union's fault. Maybe an easier to read website costs more resources and maybe the union cannot afford to devote its resources to the website. And maybe the union's legal counsel has advised the organization to erase statements made in the past.

I am, however, inclined to give the UICUF a break on one criticism I have made. I have often criticized the union for not posting its minutes of meetings. And except for two meetings, the union has posted no minutes.

I'm no longer sure that that criticism is a good one. The minutes are an internal document of union meetings, and the meetings are supposed to be a time for union members to speak and devise strategy or air grievances. For me to demand that the union disclose the content of such meetings is to demand that the union essentially abrogate its prerogative to be the voice of its bargaining unit.

I will point out that the union does have a section on its website called "meeting minutes," and as long as it has that section, it should provide some explanation of which minutes are posted there and which are not, and why. Perhaps the union should delete that section if it intends not to do such things.

But I no longer believe it's the right of the public, or of a dissenter like me who has declined to go to most union meetings, to know what those minutes include. Perhaps a non-dissenting member who has missed a meeting should be able to access the minutes, but there can be a more confidential way to make those available than an open website. The union should be as transparent as possible, but it need not disclose the content of its internal deliberations.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Wherein the UIC United Faculty Union demolishes one of my criticisms

A long, long while back, I criticized, at this link, a statement made by the union.*  That statement said in part, that some faculty (before the union contract) earned "less than they would if they were managing a McDonald's."**  At the time, I wrote, that the statement conveyed "a certain antipathy toward the type of people who work at McDonald's.  It's almost as if it is offensive that someone who works 'merely' at fast food or other customer service jobs might earn more than someone who does higher work."

But now, I read on the minutes from the UICUF's last representative assembly meeting on February 5, 2015*** that the attendees spoke with a delegation from "Fight for Fifteen," an organization that, apparently, seeks to increase the pay of fast food workers and other workers in Chicago (and perhaps elsewhere) to $15 per hour and to promote union recognition for such workers.  The union's Facebook feed contains a reference to a rally that those workers will hold in April. 

Whatever reservations I have about the UIC United Faculty Union, I support fast food workers' efforts to unionize.  And even if I didn't, I'd have to acknowledge that these statements of support--however modest they might be in the in the grand scheme--demonstrate more support for such workers than my prickly comments from over a year ago. 

So to the union:  Good Job!

*That link goes to a post in which I reproduced a letter I had written on February 8, 2014.  The letter itself is in PDF format, and what I quote above comes from page 9 of that document.

**That statement was part of the union's old website and therefore cannot be linked to.  I'll point out how that is one example in which the union has excised its public record.  One effect of dismantling its old website  is to erase potentially embarrassing statements such as the one I cite here.  That said, I do not claim that avoiding embarrassment is the main, or even a, reason for dismantling the site.  I don't know the reasons the union did so, and there may very well have been good reasons, about which I can only speculate, ranging (I suspect) from technical issues to legal problems with what the union may have said during the lead up to the contract ratification.  Whatever the reasons and however critical I may be of the decision, I believe the union was within its rights to dismantle its old website.

***That link takes you to the page the union devotes to meeting minutes.  From there, click on the link for the February 5, 2015 Representative Assembly Meeting.  It is a PDF document.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Good on the UIC United Faculty Union

I have complained recently (here and here) about transparency and the UICUF website.  But I should point out that the union has posted minutes from its February 5, 2015 minutes.  Here's it the link to the PDF, and here is the link to the page where the PDF is housed.  I have not read the minutes yet but plan to do so when I get the chance (and am not sure when that will be).

Regrettably, the union has not posted its minutes from the December 2015 meeting, or at least not yet.

Still, I would like to congratulate the union for deciding on transparency over secrecy.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Re-evaluating transparency: grade changed to B+

In my last post, I went to some length criticizing the union's website and expressing my view that the union is not as transparent as it should be.  There are still some issues with the website and, in my opinion, with the union's overall transparency and outreach to members.

That said, it has been a while since I've looked at the union's Facebook feed.  One thing I've noticed is that the union posted there its response to Mr. Rauner's recent executive order on public employee "fair share" dues.  In my last post, I had explicitly criticized the union for not making that statement public.  I therefore must retract that criticism.

I will add, however, that the Facebook feed doesn't seem to announce new meetings, post minutes of meetings, or mention some of the problems with working conditions that I am aware of.  For the latter, it's possibly the case that not publicizing those problems might be a wise thing.

Still, in focusing only on the website, I failed to look at the other ways the UICUF tries to keep its members informed.  (It also, by the way, has a Twitter account.)

Friday, February 13, 2015

"B-" for transparency: the UIC United Faculty Union website

I have already noted some of the challenges in the UICUF's new website in an earlier post.  In that post, my biggest complaint was that the new website essentially wipes clean the history of the UICUF.  (Yes, "wipes clean the history of" is a value laden, question-begging cliche about what "history" actually is....but I think my readers get my point.)  Unless the particular page has been cached in one's browser, it is almost impossible to read pages from the prior version of the website.  Therefore, it is much more difficult to know or study what the union said or did in the lead-up to the adoption of its contract.

In that post, I noted in passing  what I considered a promising feature of the new website.  It posted the minutes from its last meeting.  That was an admirable move toward transparency.

But the minutes from that meeting were also the only minutes the union has posted.  There has been at least one other meeting, on December 3, 2014, the same day the UICUF sponsored the "academic freedom panel." I believe there was a meeting sometime last week, but I am uncertain, and if there was, I didn't attend.  It would be hard at any rate to know, because the website doesn't seem to announce new meetings.  The announcement for the academic freedom council on December 3, for example, doesn't disclose that there was a meeting right before.  In fact, I'm not sure I realized there was a meeting until I went to the panel, and arrived about a half-hour early and found a meeting going on.

There are other announcements which I would have expected the union to post on its website but which it has not (at least not yet) posted.  Those announcements would have dealt with certain problems the union and the members of its bargaining unit have encountered in the last two months or so.  I don't wish to disclose them now because the announcements I received came to my email as "official" communications meant only for union members.  If I do comment on them later, I will do so using only sources available to the public or personal information about myself which I feel I have the prerogative to disclose.

To be sure, when it comes to meeting minutes and certain announcements, I can see a rationale for the union not making them public.  I don't believe it has a strict obligation disclose all or any of the minutes .  And something is to be said about reserving the privacy necessary to plot strategy and to discuss sensitive personnel or discipline issues. 

However, some of the "official" announcements sent to the union's listserv seem designed for public consumption, and placing them on the website strikes me as a good way to broaden access to them.  For example, I don't believe I"m disclosing any great secret by saying that the UICUF has a position on Governor Rauner's executive order to exempt certain state employees from fair share dues payments.  That seems like the type of statement the union would want to publish on its site.  Further, while meeting "minutes" might need to be private to cover some issues, publicity is good for transparency.  Because things tend to get known anyway, it might be helpful for the union to have its side of the story out there.  If privacy or secrecy really is a concern, it wouldn't be unheard of or particularly bad for a meeting to speak about certain sensitive topics off the record.  And for what it's worth, in the few all-member meetings I've attended, strategy and "difficult" issues were discussed in only a very general way.  And....the "minutes" from the only meeting that have been posted were not the free flowing discussion or even traditional minutes any way.  They were more like a Powerpoint presentation that the union gave and about which there was presumably discussion not noted in the "minutes."  If something like that from other meetings were reproduced for the website, it would be better than nothing.

In my last post about the website, I said that it has "a bit of an aesthetics problem."  That "aesthetics problem" wasn't something I harped on then.  But the more I think on it, the less charitably I am inclined to it.  The website is so hard to read it seems almost deliberately designed to discourage reading it.  I also wonder how its color dynamics might affect people with color blindness.  (I do not myself have color blindness or know much of anything about that condition, so maybe my objection is off-base.  But still.....) 

As far as aesthetics--and even my other points--go, I'll reiterate what I said  in my last post on the website.  There is a lot I simply do not know about web design.  I do know that there is more work involved than simply typing in something and posting it online, and my vantage point from the cheap seats might make it seem easier than it really is.  The union has limited resources and the time.  It also probably has to concern itself with the security of its site.  It's one thing for me to set up a pseudonymous blog account using a blogspot platform.  It's another thing to set up a website for a sometimes controversial organization.  I imagine there is a non-trivial danger that the site would be hijacked or somehow shunted offline.  Maybe this design is part of an effort to prevent such a development.

Still, I mean this post to be a suggestion to the union on how it might improve its website.  I realize the union has requested feedback from its members on the site.  And this blog post is my way of giving that feedback.