Unions rally, march toward better contracts
March 19, 2014
When the presidents of the four unions at Southern Illinois University Carbondale gathered together for a luncheon in February and discussed the idea of having a joint rally to kick off bargaining season, the president of the Non-Tenure Track Faculty Association said he had his reservations.
“I have to admit I had my doubts, but I want to commend you all for coming here today,” James Wall, president of the NTTFA, told the crowd of almost 200 as he spoke outside of Morris Library on SIU campus. “I think this is absolutely tremendous.”
He and other labor leaders addressed supporters at the “Intent to Bargain Rally” that took place at noon on Wednesday, March 19. Labor advocates at SIU gathered at the library before marching to Anthony Hall where the presidents of the Association of Civil Service Employees, the Faculty Association, the Non-Tenure Track Faculty Association and Graduate Assistants United entered and delivered their respective letters declaring intent to bargain new contract agreements.
Wall, one of the four union presidents who hand-delivered a bargaining declaration letter to an administrative aide in Anthony Hall, said that in addition to his initial concerns over the rally, he was not sure at first about running for FA president either, even after serving as secretary for several years.
He said it was his wife who convinced him to take on the role.
“I really didn’t want to do it, but she said: ‘Don’t quit now. You’ve come too far. You’ve come too far to just sit back and watch,’” he recalled.
He thanks those who showed up for not just sitting back and watching.
“We cannot sit back,” Wall said as he addressed allies through a megaphone. “We have to stand up for what’s right. We have to stand up for what we believe in. We have to stand up for our students.”
Rachel Stocking, president of the Faculty Association and professor of history at SIUC, said she sees this juncture as a “moment of transition,” and one of “opportunity.”
Stocking stressed the salience of sticking together.
“We’re also carrying on from the last round the idea of solidarity between the four unions,” she said, “which is also a very important aspect of strength at the bargaining table.”
Stocking, who wrote the book “Bishops, Councils, and Consensus in the Visigothic Kingdom, 589-633,” said she wants to “keep negotiations constructive, and hopefully brief, which would be really nice, especially for the people on the bargaining team.”
A great contract would benefit faculty and improve the University as a whole, she said, adding that all the unions have work to do, “particularly recruiting other members.”
Matt Ryg, president of Graduate Assistants United, joined the other three to hand-deliver the GAUnited request to the administration to “schedule mutually agreeable dates and times for bargaining,” as the letter he gave to the aide in Anthony Hall stated.
Prior to marching to Anthony Hall and making those first formal steps toward a better contract, Ryg delivered something else to members and supporters.
“I’m going to deliver some lofty rhetoric here for you,” he said jokingly before speaking to the crowd from atop the fountain ledge outside of the library.
Graduate Assistants expect the University to bargain in good faith, Ryg said.
He said the University could not run without the labor GAs perform, suggesting latent potential in the process of mobilizing.
“This rally is a demonstration of our collective power,” he said. “There are two kinds of power, I believe: organized money and organized people. This rally is definitely a testament to the power of organized labor.”
Ryg said Graduate Assistants really need a raise, and that they want “the University to stop raising our fees” because “it’s safe to say that our current level of employment fees is unjust.”
“If Chancellor Cheng paid the same rate of fees as Graduate Assistants do at SIU, she would be paying roughly $85,000 a year in fees just to have the privilege of working here,” he said. “That’s what we’re doing: we’re paying for the privilege to work here.”
When speaking to those gathered on the grass outside the library, he quoted the late Senator Paul Wellstone, who used to say that “sometimes you have to pick a fight to win one.”
Yet, Ryg said GAU looks “forward to a constructive working relationship” with incoming SIU president Randy Dunn, who himself was a member of the Faculty Association.
GAU increased membership by some 17 percent in the last few years and are “kicking ass in that front,” Ryg said.
He said the number of people who rallied illustrates both the strength in numbers and an important parallel when it comes to membership.
“If only a handful of people came, no one would see that strength,” he said. “Membership works the same way. The administration knows how many members we have. We need your membership. We need your voice in the bargaining process.”
After he and the other presidents spoke, union supporters marched with signs that read, “SIU Work With Us For a Fair Contract,” and made their way to Anthony Hall.
When Ryg walked into Anthony Hall with the other union presidents he carried with him the letter to formally initiate the bargaining process.
“This is our formal demand to bargain a successor agreement and begin negotiations as soon as possible,” the letter, signed by Ryg and addressed to Drs. Poshard and Cheng, stated.
Per the existing collective bargaining agreement, the administration has 45 days to respond.
James Anderson is a doctoral candidate and the GAU Steward for the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts. His interests include social movements, alternative media, critical theory, prefigurative politics, horizontalidad, political economy and praxis.