Saturday, April 23, 2011

FA: Negotiate, or we file "Right to Strike" notice

The Faculty Association is making some moves, albeit in a fairly low-key way so far. A new "fact sheet" entitled "Our Bargaining Rights", the first of a planned series of such items, notes that the FA's Department Representatives Council has given FA President Randy Hughes the authority to file a "Notice of Intent to Strike". Such a notice would not, despite its legal title, in fact obligate the FA to strike, but would remove the last legal hurdle to a strike, and thus would count as "more serious action" in the language of the fact sheet.

I say "would count" as more serious action because the FA has not yet in fact filed this notice, choosing instead to give the administration an opportunity to return to the bargaining table and engage in good faith bargaining "right away". I have heard not the slightest hint of any such negotiations taking place, however, which presumably means that the FA may file this notice fairly soon.

The fact sheet also outlines the FA's position that there is no legal impasse, and hence the administration's imposed terms are illegal. The FA accordingly plans to file an Unfair Labor Practice charge (the same sort of charge filed by the NTT union in December, which apparently led the administration to drop its plan for massive layoffs). A labor board decision confirming that view would take a long time to reach, however. At any rate, the university is legally bound by its new terms and by the old contract, where the imposed terms do not make changes. Future fact sheets are promised, detailing why the administration's terms are unacceptable, from the FA's point of view, and the FA document "On Chancellor Cheng's Ultimatum" gives a narrative that backs up the FA's claim that the administration has been inflexible, and that the imposed terms are unacceptable.

One important thing to keep in mind is the distinction between what is legal and what is doable. If the FA is right, the administration's "imposed terms" (including furlough days) are illegal. But it would take years, probably, to secure a legally enforceable decision confirming the illegality of those terms. In the short and medium term, the only place to undo these terms is at the bargaining table, and if the administration refuses to return "right away", the FA (presumably in concert with other campus unions) will have to attempt to force the administration back to the bargaining table. Filing an "intent to strike" notice is one means of doing so. Bad publicity for SIUC, no doubt, but if the administration is unwilling to negotiate, it is hard to see how the unions have any choice but to ratchet up the pressure.

Details on the imposed terms are available at the FA website:

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