UIC faculty union to strike after failing to reach agreement with administration

The union representing faculty members at the University of Illinois Chicago say they remain far apart in bargaining with school officials on compensation. They are set to strike Tuesday.

University of Illinois Chicago faculty picket on campus last week.
University of Illinois Chicago faculty picket on campus last week. Lisa Philip / WBEZ
University of Illinois Chicago faculty picket on campus last week.
University of Illinois Chicago faculty picket on campus last week. Lisa Philip / WBEZ

UIC faculty union to strike after failing to reach agreement with administration

The union representing faculty members at the University of Illinois Chicago say they remain far apart in bargaining with school officials on compensation. They are set to strike Tuesday.

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Faculty members at the University of Illinois Chicago are going on strike Tuesday after nine months of negotiations and failing to reach a contract agreement during a marathon bargaining session Monday.

The UIC United Faculty union announced late Monday night that it would follow through with its walkout after inadequate movement in meetings left faculty and the university administration “far apart” on compensation.

“The campus is thriving, but many faculty are not,” UICUF bargaining team member and associate professor of criminology, law and justice Nicole Nguyen 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.”

UIC Interim Chancellor Javier Reyes and Acting Provost Karen Colley wrote in an email to the university community that “the decision to strike is up to each faculty member” and encouraged students to check their online dashboard and email for the status of their specific classes and labs.

“Please plan to attend if you have not been told the class or lab is canceled,” Reyes and Colley said.

“This work stoppage is disappointing and not in the best interest of the university or our students. However, UIC fully respects the rights of its employees under the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act and other applicable laws,” the administrators wrote.

“During the strike, the university is committed to continuing normal operations to the fullest extent possible.”

The two sides negotiated for 12 hours Monday and agreed to resume bargaining Wednesday.

UICUF members plan to picket daily from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. until a tentative agreement is reached. Rallies will also be held every day on the East Campus Quad at noon and include speeches from state and national union leaders and local politicians, the union said.

UICUF members are still looking for higher minimum salaries, pay increases that keep up with historic inflation, learning-disability assessments for students, more transparency for non-tenure-track faculty and more, the union said.

The UIC administration is offering raises of 17% over four years, averaging 4.25% per year, the union said. That figure is comprised of merit and other specific pools of raises that do not apply to all union members across the board.

UICUF leaders called that offer insufficient, pointing to “seven years of record enrollments and over a billion dollars in unrestricted reserve funds as evidence that the university can afford to take demands for faculty raises seriously.”

The campus has about 34,000 students, including nearly 22,000 undergraduates.

The union had authorized a walkout in November, when 77% of nearly 900 members voted and nearly all supported a strike. UICUF members have been working without a contract since mid-August.

Student mental health has also emerged as a focal point of negotiations. The union has asked for both pay and student supports such as free psychological and neuropsychological testing to address mental health and the faculty’s corresponding increased workloads.

Earlier Monday, the UIC administration announced it had committed $4.47 million over six years to initiatives to improve student mental health. At the time, officials said “the university remains hopeful that a resolution can be achieved.”

UICUF last went on strike in 2014. The union authorized a walkout in 2019 but reached a deal the day before a planned work stoppage.

Since 2014, faculty at all three University of Illinois campuses — Chicago, Urbana-Champaign and Springfield — have gone on strike. And graduate student workers at UIC went on strike last spring for eight days over pay raises and reductions of student fees. It was their second walkout in three years.