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An Open Letter to UIC Administrators from Leon Fink

To: Lon S. Kaufman, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost

Dear Provost Kaufman:

I read with interest your Oct. 8 administrative "update on the status of faculty negotiations," but write to signal a worrisome gap between rhetoric and reality in the current union-management contract talks. As you note, negotiations between the legally qualified bargaining representative of the tenured and non-tenured track faculty—the UICUF—and the UIC Administration has now stretched out over fifteen months since August 2012. You say that "reaching a settlement soon with both [i.e. tenured and non-tenure system] bargaining units is our highest priority…We all share a mission and common interest of providing a high-quality educational experience for our students and being a place where faculty can carry out their scholarship and compete on a global level." Such a goal is surely in keeping with the university's "Social Justice Initiative" to which you and Chancellor Allen-Meares have contributed considerable energy and resources since 2010 dedicated to "change and improve our world."

Having read your words, however, I have to wonder whether you or the Chancellor have actually paid attention to what is transpiring in your names (and in your absence) at the so-called negotiating table? Taking note of the reported fiftieth [!] bargaining session between the parties, I attended last Monday's October 21 meeting in SCE as an observer, determined to see with own eyes what lay behind the dilatory pace of the talks.

I have to say that I was appalled at what I observed. Scheduled for a 10 am start, the Administrative team did not arrive until 10:45. Then, their chief representative, UIC Labor and Employee Relations Director Tom Riley began the meeting by cautioning us observers against any show of "emotion" or "demonstrations." Like you, Provost Kaufman, he observed that he was there to "bargain in good faith."

Alas, I witnessed from the Administration no real "bargaining" and precious little "good faith." The union side had anticipated that it might receive a new proposal regarding key compensation issues, but none was forthcoming. So the union proceeded to outline a compromise plan regarding more subsidiary concerns including transportation subsidies and infrastructure support such as timely replacement of faculty computers. Rather than discuss, debate, or brainstorm over any of these matters, however, the Administration team immediately withdrew from the table for a "caucus." Nearly an hour later, they returned—not with a counter-proposal but rather an outright rejection of all the union initiatives. This, I take it, has been the rule, not the exception, of Administration behavior throughout the negotiations. Especially on any and all proposals entailing financial obligations, the response is implacable negativity. I submit that this is an approach that will lead to precisely the "unnecessary animosity and confrontation" that your October 8 memo seeks to avoid. I note, as well, that a 2009 Cornell ILR study, points to delay in negotiations as one of the chief managerial tactic in the private sector for thwarting the democratic will of those seeking union representation.

Things surely need not proceed down this unhappy path. Labor-management negotiators are quite familiar with a process of "mutual gains" or "interest-based" bargaining whereby both parties identify their priority concerns, then work together—in conversation, not frozen caucuses—to reach common ground.

Is such an approach not more in keeping with the ideals of a great urban research university than the adversarial process that seems to be emanating from the system's Urbana-based Office of Labor Relations? Can we learn from collaborative models of governance and successful contract negotiations such as recently accomplished at the University of Oregon? Or does UIC prefer to follow the lead of dead-end anti-union employers in the private sector like Wal-Mart? In short, I encourage, even implore, you to get personally involved in the negotiations before they break down in bitter acrimony. Surely, both you and Chancellor Allen-Meares recognize that social justice begins at home.

Sincerely yours,
Leon Fink, UIC Distinguished Professor and Researcher of the Year, 2011-2012