The faculty union at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville is now official, a year after petitions began circulating to organize the professors.
The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board certified the SIUE Faculty Association for approximately 400 tenured and tenure-track faculty at the university, as organized through the Illinois Education Association. The professors were among the last SIUE employees to organize, following the non-tenure-track faculty members and staff that belong to at least a dozen other unions on campus.
The union drive began shortly before the start of the last academic year. Organizers said throughout the process that the faculty were not unhappy with their salaries or working conditions, but felt they needed a stronger, more unified voice to advocate in the ongoing budget reductions and the budget stalemate in Springfield.
“SIUE’s rising enrollment and cash reserves helped us avoid the kind of layoffs and cutbacks suffered at Eastern, Western and Chicago State, but our administration continues to face hard choices here,” said music professor Kim Archer, who was elected president of the new faculty association. “We organized to ensure a place at the table when hard decisions need to be made.”
Management and marketing professor Mary Sue Love, the new union’s vice president, said their efforts were not aimed at local university policies or administrators, though there is much to be done on campus to maintain the quality of education.
“We seek to do this by working together where we can with colleagues in the Faculty Senate,” she said. “As a union, we can also address basic employment concerns, which will boost morale and recognize the hard work of our faculty.”
SIUE Chancellor Randy Pembrook said they will work closely with faculty to consider the needs of all employees.
“The unionization issue is a faculty decision, and we fully support their ability to choose how they will be represented,” Pembrook said. “Within the spirit of shared governance that has played a major role in SIUE’s growth and success, we look forward as an administration to further collaborative conversations with our faculty to enhance the student academic experience and to maximize the working environment for everyone.”
With the new faculty union, non-tenure-track faculty, professional staff and technical staff, IEA will now represent nearly 900 SIUE employees. Clinical faculty members in the schools of pharmacy and dental medicine are not affected.
IEA higher education director Michael McDermott said volunteer activists within the faculty “played a major part” in the drive’s success, which took place relatively without controversy over the course of the last year. Volunteers met with faculty members individually and held a series of open meetings to discuss unionization, including a joint meeting with members of the faculty union at the Carbondale campus.
Under state labor laws, if more than 50 percent of employees sign a “majority interest” petition, no election needs to be held to recognize the union. Organizers said not only did a majority of faculty members sign union authorization statements, most became actual members of the union.
The next step for the new union: negotiating the first contract. “Many still weighing the new situation will come around when we speak with them about bargaining concerns and remind them that strength in numbers means a better union contract — and that helps everybody,” Archer said.