Federally mediated contract talks between Eastern Illinois University and its faculty and support staff union are scheduled to resume Monday, April 3.
When they resume, officials with the EIU-University Professionals of Illinois chapter (part of Illinois Federation of Teachers Local 4100) hope the administration will feel more pressure to reach a settlement, following last week’s approval of a strike authorization vote. Union officials say approval was “overwhelming”, with an 85%-member turnout for the vote at the state university campus in Charleston, and 97% of the turnout voting “yes”.
The two-day voting period on Wednesday and Thursday was followed by a bargaining session on Friday, March 10. EIU-UPI vice-president and lead negotiator Billy Hung said in an email that progress was made, but that the union “still sees a significant gap between what the administration is offering and what we consider as a fair economic proposal.”
Hung said they hope to reach agreement with the administration, “but our members cannot afford to continue to work at an effective pay cut”.
Union local president Jennifer Stringfellow says the main issues dividing the union and administrations are salaries and workloads. She says workloads for the more than 300 faculty and support staff represented by the union at Eastern have increased, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Many people are doing more work, because we have lost employees, because they’ve left and they have not been replaced,” said Stringfellow. “So, we’re looking for there to be some movement.”
Eastern’s faculty and support staff have been working without a contract since the old one expired at the end of last August. Negotiations on a new contract have been going on for nearly a year.
Meanwhile, the administration issued a statement last Friday in response to the strike authorization vote. It says Eastern Illinois University “remains dedicated to good faith negotiations with its partner organizations and looks forward to a mutually beneficial outcome that reaffirms the University’s fundamental commitments to student success, opportunity, address and affordability.”
In addition to Eastern, members of the faculty-staff union at Chicago State University (another chapter of Local 4100) also voted nearly unanimously last week to strike if no contract agreement seems likely. CSU’s next bargaining session is set for Wednesday, March 15th.