ST. LOUIS (AP) — Tenured educators and those on track to become so walked off their jobs Thursday at Southern Illinois University, pressing administrators of the 20,000-student school to find temporary replacements for the striking workers in hopes of keeping classes unimpeded.
It was not immediately clear how many members of the Faculty Association union participated in the walkout or how many classes or students perhaps were affected by it. That union represents roughly 650 employees, though some 250 of them are dues-paying members.
The university has said it would try to maintain business as usual if there was a strike, relying on replacements including retired professors or other colleagues of those picketing. On the university’s Facebook page, Chancellor Rita Cheng urged students to attend their classes Thursday, insisting they “will meet as regularly scheduled” and that the walkout would involve “a limited number of faculty.”
Rod Sievers, a spokesman for the university, said the strike involving educators carrying picket signs outside the campus’ main entrances and a half dozen or so outside the building housing the chancellor’s office should have “minimal impact” on classes they teach.
“We’ll be able to fill the gaps,” using substitute educators, Sievers said. “We’re definitely taking our responsibility to our students very seriously and definitely meeting our responsibilities.”
Three other Illinois Education Association-affiliated bargaining units representing non-tenure track faculty, graduate assistants and civil service staffers managed to reach strike-averting tentative deals, though terms of those contracts were not immediately disclosed.
The walkout culminates a labor dispute dating to at least April of last year, when bargaining got under way in advance of the contracts that lapsed that following July. The unions signed off on a possible strike in late September and early last month.
Dave Johnson, a Faculty Association spokesman, called the strike necessary in the bargaining unit’s quest for what it called openness from the university over any future need for possible job cuts or furloughs, specifically seeking proof that such action would be fiscally imperative.
“We are prepared to support both furloughs and layoffs, but only if they are justified in a true fiscal crisis,” Johnson, an associate professor in the university’s Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, said in a statement. “The only way to ensure this is through a process that provides transparency and accountability, a process that all on the SIUC campus can understand and accept. The administration has been unwilling to work with us to produce such a process.”
Johnson said the union offered concessions, including letting the administration impose furloughs at its discretion and without proving them justified “so long as it repaid the furloughs the next year. And we offered furloughs the administration would not need to repay, but would need to justify, including, if we found their justification inadequate, to an outside arbitrator.” Johnson said the university’s bargainers rejected both options.
A message left Thursday with the university’s spokesman, Rod Sievers, was not immediately returned.
Johnson insisted the walkout wasn’t motivated by salary issues, saying the union turned down the administration’s offer of pay increases totaling 4 percent over four years when it learned such raises would require sizable increases in tuition. Instead, he said, the union proposed receiving raises only if the university’s overall revenues increased.
“If (the university’s) finances improve, our salaries should increase. If not, not,” he said.
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