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UIC faculty authorizes strike; talks go on

Updated: January 7, 2014 6:44AM

The unionized faculty at the University of Illinois at Chicago has voted overwhelmingly to strike, even while negotiations with a federal mediator continue, union officials said late Thursday.

Seventy-nine percent of the 800 union members voted, and of those, 95 percent voted to strike.

“This demonstrates to our members, and to the university administration, that the faculty fully understands how much is at stake during this 15-month-long struggle for a contract,” said John Shuler, communications group leader for the UIC United Faculty, the faculty union.

Yet Shuler expressed hope that the negotiations can be resolved with the federal mediator’s help.

“We have mediation dates scheduled through the beginning of January, and we hope we can resolve the contract through mediation and avoid the necessity of a strike,” he said.

No strike is imminent in any case because the union members would have to meet, the union’s Representative Assembly would have to vote in favor and the union would have to give 10 days’ notice before a walkout.

If a strike were to occur, it would be some time during the spring semester.

The strike vote was a strategic step by the union after a year-and-a-half of disappointing negotiations on a four-year contract, Union President Joe Persky said earlier this week.

“With nearly $1 billion in surplus funds, the university president refuses to use even a small fraction of those funds for faculty compensation,” Persky, an economics professor, said in previous statements. “His position is not only unwise; it’s unfair.”

Among the unresolved issues important to the union are increasing salary and promotion opportunities for full-time faculty who are non-tenured, and boosting the pay of certain long-term faculty who make less money than their newly hired peers.

A UIC spokesman earlier this week expressed confidence that the two sides can reach an agreement, especially since a federal mediator recently started meeting with the two sides.

About 50 negotiating sessions held so far have produced tentative agreements on “a wide range” of issues, said university spokesman Bill Burton.

Burton said Monday the administration is optimistic that the two sides will come to an agreement.

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