SIU unions give university notice of intent to begin contract negotiations

After a Wednesday rally at Morris Library, four of SIU’s unions gave university administrators formal notice of intent to begin contract negotiations with letters delivered to Carbondale Chancellor Rita Cheng.

The unions — the SIUC Faculty Association, SIU Non-Tenure Track Faculty Association, Graduate Assistants United and the Association of Civil Service Employees — are part of the Illinois Education Association and represent more than 3,000 faculty and staff with a June 30 expiration date in their contracts with the university.

“We were fulfilling a contractually-requested process to begin bargaining as part of our timeline,” said George Boulukos, vice president of the SIUC Faculty Association, about Wednesday’s rally. “We requested to begin the process formally.”

Two years and four months have passed since the previous round of negotiations resulted in a six-day strike by the SIUC Faculty Association in November 2011.

The other three unions were able to reach an agreement with university administrators to avoid a strike.

“We want this round of negotiations to be constructive and not drawn out,” said SIUC Faculty Association President Rachel Stocking. “The last round did not go well and ended up with a strike for us.

“We would like (the negotiations) to be mutually respectful and start out with a positive step.”

Stocking said that the union is in the process of distributing surveys among its members seeking to gauge the level of importance of “certain issues” to see how to proceed in negotiations.

Stocking would not specify what those issues are.

“I think we need to be prepared for a number of different kinds of possibilities as far as how things are going to go,” Stocking said.

Denny LeMaster, spokesman for Graduate Assistants United, said the union is looking for health insurance for its members and scaling worker compensation with fee increases, among other things.

“As outlined in our bylaws, the university has 45 days to respond,” LeMaster said. “At this point, it’s just waiting to hear back from the university.”

Jim Wall, president of the SIU Non-Tenure Track Faculty Association, said that it is too early to tell what the interests of his union are, but he is hoping for constructive dialog with university administrators.

“The ball is in the administration’s court to determine a timeline to meet and set some ground rules,” Wall said. “I have been asked how long this may take and I said I didn’t know.

“It could be a fairly short process or a long process.”

Cheng said that it is the university’s intent to meet with the unions before the end of the spring semester to talk about key issues. SIU’s spring semester ends May 9.

“We’ve just exchanged our willingness to get started,” Cheng said. “We share the goal of reaching a fair and equitable contract and the unions are expressing their desire to work with the university.”

All three union representatives expressed hope and optimism that incoming SIU President-designate Randy J. Dunn could be a positive influence in negotiations.

Dunn has said he plans to take office on July 1, the day after the union contracts expire and current SIU President Glenn Poshard’s retirement begins.

“(Dunn) was a member of the (SIUC) Faculty Association when he was on campus,” Boulukos said. “We hope he has a different approach than what happened last time.”

Dunn was a member of SIU’s faculty from 1995 to 2004 and became chairman of the Department of Educational Administration and Higher Education in 2000.

Cyndie Kessler-Criswell, president of the Association of Civil Service Employees, could not be reached for comment.

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