University of Illinois-Chicago faculty went on strike Tuesday after union and administration officials were unable to come to a contract agreement during a “contentious” 12-hour bargaining session Monday.
Members of the UIC United Faculty (UICUF) said the sides remain far apart on compensation, even as contract negotiations have gone on for some nine months.
“The campus is thriving, but many faculty are not,” Nicole Nguyen, an associate professor and member of the UICUF bargaining team, said in a statement. “We have spent the past three years scrambling to mitigate the effects of the pandemic, and our whole community — students and faculty — are exhausted. Management needs to invest in resources that strengthen our entire community.”
Both sides plan to resume negotiations Wednesday. Faculty members are planning to picket from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day this week until a tentative agreement is reached.
UIC officials said there are five outstanding contract items that must still be resolved. While the university recognizes the union’s right to strike, Interim Chancellor Javier Reyes and Acting Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Karen Colley said the work stoppage is “disappointing and not in the best interest of the university or our students.”
“UIC values the faculty for their key role in upholding and championing the university’s academic mission,” they said in a statement. “Based on the shared principles between all involved, the university remains optimistic that a fair and beneficial bargaining agreement can be achieved.”
The union is bargaining for a minimum base pay of $60,000 for lecturers on the non-tenure track. UICUF is also asking for more job protection for non-tenure track members, including between several months’ to a year’s notice if the university does not plan to renew a lecturer’s contract (more time would be required for those with more seniority).
In addition to increased pay, the union is also seeking “a minimum level of mental health care” for students that includes access to free evaluations for learning disabilities similar to what’s available to students at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
“People are struggling all over," said Aaron Krall, UICUF president and bargaining team co-chair. "The pandemic has been rough on everybody. We see it in our classrooms. We see our students struggling. Is it crass to say our students’ mental health is our working conditions? Maybe a little, but the fact is: We’re charged with seeing our students succeed. Right now we’re feeling like we’re being asked to complete an impossible task. When we send our students to go find help over at the support services, we expect them to get help and right now we hear all too often that they’re not getting the help they need."
On Monday, administrators committed nearly $4.5 million over six years to improve those services for students. That money would go toward: expanding the number of licensed therapists, psychiatrists, clinical/counseling psychologists and support staff; salary enhancements; the creation of a social work trainee field unit; and the opening of a wellness drop-in space on the west side of campus.
“The plan expresses a commitment to transparency and accountability to enhance student well-being at UIC, which will include opportunities to share the efficacy of these initial strategies at years two and three after implementation,” Reyes and Colley said.
Despite the strike, UIC said it is “committed to continuing normal operations to the fullest extent possible.” Students are being told to check the status of their specific classes and labs and should plan to attend their classes if they haven’t been told they are canceled.
Regularly scheduled classes and labs will be held in the Colleges of Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy and School of Law, which are not affected by the strike. Teaching assistants are also expected to hold their regularly scheduled classes, labs and office hours, the university said.
A university spokesman Tuesday said the school did not have figures on how many faculty and staff participated in the strike, nor on how many classes were canceled because of it. By law, union members are not required to tell UIC whether they’re striking; the school is not permitted to ask.