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As Chicago State University faculty begins strike, other universities could follow

By ANDREW ADAMS
Capitol News Illinois
aadams@capitolnewsillinois.com

CHICAGO – Faculty at Chicago State University, a small public university on Chicago’s South Side, went on strike Monday after months of stalled negotiations with university administrators.

Faculty at Eastern Illinois University and Governors State University have also filed paperwork declaring their intent to strike, with strikes possible as early as Thursday and Friday, respectively.

All three faculties, which are part of University Professionals of Illinois Local 4100, voted to authorize a strike with a 97 percent margin of membership or higher.

Northeastern Illinois University faculty have also been in negotiations with administrators since July last year after working under a contract first approved in 2014. The NEIU faculty union has requested mediation. 

CSU’s strike has garnered messages of solidarity from union leaders in Chicago, including the heads of the Cook County College Teachers Union and the Chicago Teachers Union.

Strike leaders at CSU as well as the university’s administration have pointed to wages as a key sticking point.

In 2021, professors, lecturers and instructors at CSU made an average of $67,323, which was $17,386 lower than the average salary for those roles at other state universities, according to records from the state’s Board of Higher Education. EIU faculty made $76,244, which is $8,370 lower than the average for other universities.

“I’m really quiet and shy, but I’ve had to come out and stand up and stand out because I’m seeing so much injustice,” CSU faculty union president Valerie Goss told strikers at a Monday rally.

CSU said in a statement on Saturday that the union’s financial demands “far exceed our current economic position.”

Negotiations at EIU are also stuck on compensation.

“For months now, EIU administration has proposed to us an effective pay cut,” EIU faculty’s lead negotiator Billy Hung said in a statement last week. “And for months, we’ve said that our members will not agree to work more for less.”

EIU released a statement after the faculty authorized a strike, saying that the union’s proposal would cost the university $10 million over the contract’s four-year term.

The university cited the unclear future of international student enrollment as well as state budgeting to explain their inability to meet the union’s demands.

“Given this uncertainty and the forecasted demographic cliff facing all universities, the University needs to continue to be focused on financial stability,” the statement read.

Governors State’s faculty union president Mike Hart said disagreements over finances as well as the “overwhelming workload” that academic advisors face were the areas of disagreement that led to the strike authorization.

“No one wants to strike, but we are willing to if necessary to settle a fair contract that gives us the support required to ensure our students get the resources they need to succeed,” he said in a news release last week.

Representatives from Governors State have indicated that the sides are making progress.

“Progress is being made at the bargaining table and that is where we will be directing our energy – toward reaching an equitable new contract,” Will Davis, a spokesperson for the university, said in an email Tuesday.

University Professionals of Illinois is part of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, one of the two major teachers unions in the state. IFT President Daniel Montgomery said that the current divide between the universities and their faculty is ultimately a byproduct of years of underfunding from the state.

“This is what happens when you have 20 years of disinvestment in higher education,” Montgomery told Capitol News Illinois Monday.

Although he said faculty at Governors State and EIU won’t necessarily strike, Montgomery called the CSU strike the “tip of the spear.” 

“It’s cyclical and I think we’re in a period where people are saying ‘I’m not going to take this anymore,’” Montgomery said.

The strike authorizations follow tense bargaining at other state universities, including a January strike at the University of Illinois Chicago that lasted six days and bargaining last spring at the University of Illinois Springfield that was resolved two days before a strike would have begun.

Beyond higher education, labor rights have been the subject of significant recent debate in Illinois, with voters narrowly passing a constitutional amendment in November that guarantees the right of workers to collectively bargain. The amendment also bars the state from passing “right-to-work” laws.

While last year saw a jump in the number of major strikes nationwide, strikes are still far less common than they once were, according to data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2022, there were 26 strikes with more than 1,000 participants. While that is the highest level since 2001, it is 5.5 percent of the peak number of strikes in 1952.

 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide, as well as hundreds of radio and TV stations. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

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