Saturday, September 17, 2011

Suzanne Daughton on the strike vote

Suzanne Daughton, Associate Professor in Speech Communications (and Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies), as well as Vice-Chair of the FA's Departmental Representatives Council, asked me to post this, and I am happy to oblige. 

I appreciate that the announcement of a 'strike vote' is liable to bring an increase in blood pressure to any of us on campus. Speaking specifically to other tenured and tenure-track faculty (although this may apply to others as well), I imagine that you might be feeling a bit of adrenaline... maybe fear, dismay,helplessness, horror, shock? anger, even disgust?... 

I'm guessing that, if that is the case, you might want to clarify some issues that will help you feel more secure, or at least, give you more understanding about why you might or might not support a strike. In what follows, I'm happy to try to offer clarity, to guess at your possible concerns, and to reduce the uncertainty you might be feeling.

I feel some anxiety about this, mainly because I think we need to have this vote be positive, but I also have a sense of peace that this is the right thing to do. I'm also feeling a bit of relief, because this has been building for a long time, and we have tried literally every other option, with no appreciable change in the administration's willingness to do more than 'surface bargaining.' 

Surface bargaining, which is a formal term and is the basis of our ULP charge (=Unfair Labor Practices) --but I like that acronym, for the sense of alarm it conveys!--as it is manifesting itself at SIUC, means sitting at the table for two hours a week, changing words such as 'is' and 'and,' rather than signing tentative agreements on any issues that were actually on the table for bargaining. 

**Mostly, the issues that have been agreed to, were ones that neither side had any objection to, from the last contract!!!**

You may recall that sometimes news reports speak of negotiators bargaining for days on end to reach a settlement. Our FA team offered 10 hours a week of availability. The administration agrees to two, maybe four hours some weeks. See? Not the fast track, either in quantity or quality of bargaining.

If you would like to see the FAQ list about a possible strike, but were not able to attend last Thursday’s meeting, check the coalition website at: 

You can click on the various questions, etc.

As you may remember, these four unions have been working in coalition. There is a Steering Committee composed of several representatives from each of the locals, working in concert. Then, within each union, there are five Action Teams, working on Message, Member Activation and Recruitment, Coalition & Community Outreach, Facilities Management, and Other Support Services.

If you are willing to help, then please write letters to the paper(s), talk to your students & colleagues.

The DRC voted unanimously, after serious debate, to put the question of a strike to the membership. We had lots of concerns & realize that you may have lots of concerns, but we agreed unanimously that bargaining is not resulting in any substantive progress. It has been 16 months of bargaining, and 444 days without a contract (as of Saturday the 16th).

Our vote to ask the membership to consider a strike is our way of saying that we believe that a strike is now the best--the only--way to move forward from a position of strength: to give it all we've got, rather than to 'acquiesce' to the imposed terms. 'Acquiescence' is an actual danger, an actual 'legally-binding' thing that can be claimed, if bargaining goes on long enough without a contract. Here's why: initially, when we were first working without a contract, we continued to be protected under the status quo, in this case, the terms of the old contract. 

But then, it was replaced by something else. 

When the administration unilaterally imposed their 'final offer' in March, even though it is not a new 'contract' (because it was not agreed to by our membership), it laid out the new conditions under which we are working. Although those conditions officially were to expire June 30, 2011, there has been nothing new to replace them. After a 'long enough' time, this becomes the new 'status quo,' which the administrationcan eventually use as 'evidence' that we have accepted their terms. After six months of this status quo (where we are now), I think we are getting into dangerous territory. Certainly, should bargaining continue at the current snail's pace, this could drag on for a couple of more years, and by then 'acquiescence' would be indisputable.

If we go on strike, we will hope that all four unions will do it together, or as nearly as possible.

There are other unions on campus and in the community that, while not bargaining, may prefer not to cross a picket line. (Certainly, in a region of the state that historically has been home to many folks from coal-mining, electrical, teamster and other unions, we may receive some strong support there.)

Each union has its own issues. If you need a reminder, here are some of the FA's main issues at this point: 

--the effective eradication of Tenure;

--RIF/layoffs (without cause, just 30-days’ notice, which would initially be labelled ‘indefinite’ but which become permanent firings after two years);

--Distance education (do you want to be required to do this? do you want to be a 'proctor,' assessing students' work on some course content from another university? do you want your class to be recorded & replayed later & across the airwaves, with your comments taken out of context & without being able to respond to the nuances of student concerns? etc. The claim that distance education is just about technology, and would not affect course content or academic freedom is not very convincing...)

--Program changes, including elimination (Shared Governance is not just a catchy phrase: faculty need to be involved in the decisions around curriculum!);

--Workload (This is complex because we do so many different things across the university. Part of the FA's proposed solution, which seems eminently reasonable to me, is to write into the contract that Deans need to send Operating Papers up the line, once a unit/department approves them. At present, Deans can just 'table' and effectively kill Operating Papers, with units having no recourse.);

--and yes, Salary. We need to attract and retain good faculty. This is not only a matter of respect, but of keeping up with the cost of living.  Last year, with furloughs, we all got a pay cut of 2%, without having any say in it whatsoever. The last carrot tossed our way (not even in writing) was 0% last year, 0% this year, 0.5% the year after, and 1% the year after that--while the administrators are giving themselves raises. One colleague on the DRC pointed out that over the course of those years, that turns into a 5% pay CUT. (And that's not even factoring in any future furloughs, which the administration team insists that they need the "flexibility" to be able to do whenever they 'see a need'--and "We don't have to convince you." The words in quotes are administrative refrains that our bargaining team reports from the meetings.)

Please know that we are not being 'greedy.' Our FA bargaining team moved away from asking for a fixed % to asking that raises be tied to the overall university budget: Just for example, if athletics, administration, etc. is going up by 3%, then faculty salaries would go up by 3% as well. That seems fair, and I don't think we need to apologize for it.

The full FA proposed contract is online. 

Our FA strike vote is to be on September 28th, place to be announced.

Please speak to anyone you know on the Departmental Representatives Council (DRC) for more details, or to express concerns or ask questions.

If you are not an FA member yet, but wish to be a part of this decision, or just wish to help 'swell the ranks' for any rhetorical benefit that might reap, other FA members are happy to help you fill out the form, which is available online. Our union is stronger when you are a part of it.

Only a contract will protect us. And we will only get a contract by having a strong union. Please join, please vote, and please vote 'yes' to strike. 

I look forward to continuing to work with you all.

Love & peace,


  1. It is truly sad that it is coming to a strike. I know it is so unfair to you oh-so-important faculty that someone above you might actually make use of their position as your superior. I mean, how can you possibly be expected to serve the students that rely on you when guaranteed raises, jobs for life, and all the other subpar benefits are even so much as under threat in this wonderful economy.

    Fear not, with such a low unemployment rate and so many companies willing to hire individuals of such exemplary work ethic I'm sure you will show them just how bad you have it. I'm also sure the students who will be stuck here for an extra semester while postponing their careers and paying another semester of tuition will completely understand and support your efforts. Finally, I am confident the parents and families of future students will gladly pay the increased tuition rates or taxes to support your worthwhile cause.

    Most of all I wish upon you and yours all that is due to you.

  2. Anonymous 5:13 made the exact same post on the Southern Illinoisan board here under the user name byeyesiu:

  3. Suzanne,

    Can you tell me what the FA asked for in terms of percentage pay raises? I didn't get an answer from the Friday meeting except that the administration rejected the FA request. But what was it?


  4. Suzanne,

    Thank you for finally disclosing some of the inner strategic thinking behind the call for a strike authorization vote. But like Jonathan Bean, I would still like to know what the FA asked for in terms of percentage pay raises? The presentation by Randy the other evening was quite illuminating on most things but still left me confused as to the specific proposals the FA put forth, either in counter to the risible "verbal offer" from the administration, or earlier on.

    As somebody who is frankly undecided on whether to vote yes or no, more frank information from the union leadership about what, specifically, has been asked for by the FA would be most helpful in helping me decide. Your message today was a lot more forthcoming than others I have received in the past.


  5. If you want the current union proposal, it's been posted on the website since this spring, under bargaining information. Check the "FA Supposal for Mediation". The proposal would tie salary increases to increases in the SIUC budget; it also calls for longevity raises (to counter salary compression) and a minimum salary for each faculty rank. So there is no handy percentage figure at present. The FA responded with this complex offer because the administration wanted flexibility given financial uncertainty, and tying salaries to the budget gives flexibility but doesn't simply surrender control to the administration, which would defeat one main purpose of having a contract in the first place.

    Earlier in negotiations the FA did suggest some respectable increases (I don't have the figures handy, but they might allow us to make up the 6% we are behind our peers in total compensation over the life of the contract, which seems a worthy goal). If you are indeed interested in the original FA proposal, which I don't believe is on the website, let me know and I'll try to track it down. That proposal is however now "ancient history".

  6. Dave, why could not this issue have been stated prior to now as clearly as you have just outlined it? We're all highly educated professional educators and scholars; I think we ought to be able to communicate effectively to each other. So, thank you for doing that.


  7. And yes, I would be highly interested in learning more about what the FA proposed salary-wise, even if "ancient history." It seems to me that strike or no strike, that this contract will ultimately be settled (sometime later this year I would think); therefore, it would be useful to know what the FA proposed in order to honestly evaluate the administration's "proposal." Right now on its surface it appears to be completely unreasonable but before I use that to vote yes on a strike vote, I would like to know more of the full story.

  8. Anonymous wrote:

    "And yes, I would be highly interested in learning more about what the FA proposed salary-wise, even if 'ancient history.'"

    Me too!

    Tying salary to the budget misses that the faculty wage pool is going to shrink even faster this year (because of mass retirements). And even more next year when the admin. doesn't have to pay for the sick days of those retirees (that's a one shot deal).

    Why not tie and beat the drums on the overall faculty wage pool. Here I think the FA is caught on its own dilemma: it wants more $ but it also wants to "preserve faculty lines." Most of us know that attrition is one way to keep us from being laid off if things worsen (as they always seem to do around here. Face it: our jobs are more secure if we DO NOT preserve all faculty lines. Sure, admin. will save money but if we find ways to work more (or smarter) then I would trade a higher teaching load (or an online course in the summer) for higher pay and a no-layoff clause.

    I know that is heresy among many FA folk. Many FAers want to 1) maintain our current workloads, 2) keep all our faculty lines, and 3) be guaranteed no layoffs (since we ask for no layoffs each and every contract, then it does amount to lifetime job security, right?).

    I think it's clear some of us want to know the initial proposal put on the table. Wish I had known that months ago, frankly.

  9. Dave, on another link you said the CURRENT bargaining proposal doesn't mention % raises. We all get that -- we are asking what the initial offer was by FA?

    Although at this point, I'm beginning not to care because I never seem to get a straight answer from FA or admin. Sigh. (PS: This isn't aimed at you, I asked other FA leaders this before Friday's meeting and got no answer).

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