Saturday, April 9, 2016

Union news update

Catching up from a couple of days off . . .

AFSCME leaders are lobbying GOP legislators to override Rauner's looming veto of the mandatory arbitration bill. AFSCME negotiations determine the health benefits offered to all state employees, including university faculty. The bill would require arbitration in the event the two sides reach an impasse in bargaining. Rauner has said he believes AFSCME negotiations are at an impasse, and has asked the ILRB (Illinois Labor Relations Board) to certify as much. AFSCME disagrees that negotiations are at an impasse, arguing that Rauner is simply refusing to negotiate (which doesn't constitute an impasse).

If a legal impasse is reached, the employer has the right to impose their last contract offer--and the union has the right to strike. But by and large an impasse benefits the employer. Hence "impasse to implementation" is a common employer strategy for getting their way in union negotiations.  At least, unlike the Cheng administration, Rauner isn't just declaring an impasse without a legal ruling. Here at SIU, of course, the IELRB (Illinois Education LRB) eventually ruled that there was no impasse, which resulted in everyone getting four days of pay back after the illegal imposition of furloughs and imposed terms by the Cheng administration. Thanks are due to members of the Cheng bargaining team for not only saying revealing things about the bargain to impasse strategy in meetings but recording them in minutes.

NTT faculty at U of I consider some sort of labor action. The new UIUC NTT union is having a difficult time in negotiations; they are trying to win protections similar to those enjoyed by UIC NTT faculty, who are guaranteed two-year appointments after five years and three-year appointments after ten years. The UIUC plans for some sort of work stoppage/labor action short of a full-on strike are no doubt dictated in part by timing: the last couple of weeks of the semester are a poor time to start a strike. You maximize damage to students (a bad thing) at the end of the semester, and if you don't get things resolved at the end of the semester you're left in limbo over the summer, with no leverage and no pay (or at least no benefits, potentially, if you are on a nine month contract). (UIUC tenure stream faculty are not unionized, though they have an active Campus Faculty Association.)

State news update

IHBE leaders warn that community colleges certainly can't front MAP grants, universities probably can't. The DE has coverage of our students' worries on this front here. Even if public universities, including SIU, somehow manage to continue funding MAP grants, the loss of MAP grants at community colleges would mean a massive loss in college access, including for many students who would otherwise eventually transfer to SIU.

GOP floats new bill to fund social services--not universities. The Republicans argue this bill would pay for such spending, unlike previous democratic efforts to fund social services and higher education. One way their bill pays for social services (and not for public universities) is to require public universities to pick up pension payments for anyone making over $180,000. I.e., it pays for social services, in part, by taking money from universities. Social services need funding, and I'm not terribly sympathetic to the financial plight of folks making more than $180,000, but universities cannot simply renege on promised pension benefits to them. The rest comes from the mysterious "special funds". They are apparently a real problem (one beyond my ken), but "sweeping" them has consequences, at least in one case where taking gasoline taxes meant to pay for leaking gasoline tanks. Ultimately the state needs a real budget: the belief that we can solve state budget problems via special funds is the state-level equivalent of saying we can solve university funding problems by cutting administrative bloat.

Rauner calls for putting partisan differences aside, attacks other side.  Our governor penned a letter to the State Journal-Register (Springfield) that started off with happy talk about putting people first and then quickly became a pitch for his own short-term proposals to fund universities and social services. My analysis of those proposals is here. The same day he called for negotiations he gave a speech at a GOP Lincoln Day dinner that the local paper characterized as a call for "Staying the Course".

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The slow-motion train wreck

Here's how bad things look: the following counts as a possible end game. There is more  speculation about a judicial "solution" to the crisis. The solution--something I blogged about before but with less informative links--is that the courts rule that Illinois has no legal authority to pay employees. Or perhaps it is required, by federal law, to pay essential employees the federal minimum wage. But Illinois' payroll system is so obsolete that it can't figure out who's essential, or how to pay them only the federal minimum. In any event, if the courts rule this way, the whole thing comes to a screeching halt. And at that point we have to have a budget, as the state would be lucky even to keep the jails locked in that case. But of course the courts work slowly, so any such ruling is months away.

There's also somewhat more rosy speculation about how Republicans in the House could solve things without that trainwreck, again from Capitol Fax. It would only take a few votes to sustain a veto override. But don't hold your breath.

One of the most frustrating things about the crisis is that many aspects of state government are going along more or less as usual (K-12, for example). It's this that has allowed things to go on this far. I don't begrudge the funding that is allowing my son to go to school. But other parts of state government are going under. Those include some vital social services, like those attempting to address the epidemic of drug use, and also our public universities.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Unionized faculty earn 25% more--at some places

A story in the Chronicle flags a new study showing that professors at regional public universities earn roughly 25% more than their non-unionized peers.

The study makes a fundamental point familiar to those of us who work at such universities--we are routinely ignored in press coverage and statistics, or at best are lumped together with flagship public universities. In addition to distinguishing regional universities from flagships and studying the impact of collective bargaining, the study looked to geography (urban, suburban, rural) and size to study possible correlations with compensation. The study also included fringe benefits with salaries to provide a fuller picture of faculty compensation.

Lots of local questions: Are we a regional university? By their definition, yes. But in other respects, not so much. Do we make 25% more than non-unionized peers? No. Why don't we make a lot more? Perhaps because we're rural.

So things get complicated and fuzzy pretty quickly, but there's lots to be learned from this study. Details after the break.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Rauner's higher education argument

My sympathies in the funding crisis are clearly not with Governor Rauner, but I like to be fact-based. And to understand the enemy (even if one concludes that's the right way to understand him), you need to understand his position.

A difficulty with understanding Rauner's position is that it seems to be constantly changing. Flexibility could of course be a good thing, and a sign of pragmatism, but at least in this case it leaves it difficult to figure out just what the hell Rauner is trying to do (at least difficult for me: real political insiders may understand this better).

I think that Rauner basically has a two-part strategy. The long-term game is to use the crisis to implement 'structural reform' in Illinois. To survive the pressure from the crisis, Rauner has various short-term responses. In this post I'll attempt to address his short-term proposals. Spoiler: they aren't impressive.

State government to return to "action"

The legislature will soon be back in session. Two informative stories can be found in the Bloomington Pantagraph (reprinted in the Southern, as it's part of the same chain of newspapers) and the  Springfield State Journal-Register. Finally, this story from the "Illinois News Network" cites a couple of pundits saying a budget resolution is unlikely anytime soon.

The first story is the most comprehensive. It notes that the apparently imminent closure of Chicago State University is amping up the pressure on the governor and the legislature, and provides an update on the latest bargaining positions of the two sides. The Democratic position seems to be: sign the appropriation bills we've sent you (including funding for MAP grants and public universities), and we'll go from there. The Dems know there's not enough money to fully fund those bills, but this would at least get some funding out. Rauner's position seems to be that since there's not enough money to fully fund those bills, they are worthless. Instead he thinks the Democrats should first agree to the watered-down items remaining on his Turnaround Agenda, and we'll go from there. Going on from there for both sides seems to mean addressing revenue as well as budget cuts, though no doubt Rauner will want more of the latter and Democrats prefer more of the former.

The juiciest thing the second article is the back story on an otherwise mysterious memo from the governor saying he was going to continue to pay state employees despite a recent court decision. For the very court decision that denied AFSCME employees back pay could be taken to provide a legal argument that no state employees should be getting paid now in the absence of a budget. There was scuttlebutt that Attorney General Lisa Madigan (daughter of Mike Madigan, and potential gubernatorial candidate) was going to sue to prevent employees getting paid; despite the lack of any statement from Lisa Madigan on this topic, Rauner decided to score some political points against her be decrying her supposed plan.

The third story is mainly informed speculation, but also contains some more background on the memo and the issue of state employee pay, suggesting that might trigger a still larger crisis that could result in a budget.