NTFC Local #6546: The Time for Action

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The end of October marked a change in the weather in Champaign-Urbana—a few days of rain and a change in temperature that brought Fall to town. And NTFC Local #6546, the union of non-tenure-track faculty (NTTs) at UIUC, was out there in it, with a unified teach-in and rally on the last Wednesday in October. Our members were out on the Quad and in the Illini Union, teaching our classes, meeting with our students, collaborating with our partners, and making our voices heard. In short, we were doing our jobs, making ourselves and our work visible, to highlight our mission, putting Education First.

This action was one of the first major actions with events on all three University of Illinois campuses—Urbana-Champaign, Chicago, and Springfield—coordinated by higher education unions who are all affiliated with the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT). These IFT higher education locals include thousands of tenure-track faculty, non-tenure-track faculty, graduate employees, and staff who do a huge chunk of the work of the University of Illinois system. This coalition thus represents much of the core of the educational mission of the University, and is why we’ve been using the motto “Education First.”

As I’ve pointed previously in The Public I, we believe that one of the best ways to embody this motto is to put on display the various ways education really happens at the University of Illinois. This time around, it was teach-in and rally at Urbana-Champaign, a panel discussion on the state budget and higher education at Springfield, and the conclusion of the contract ratification vote at Chicago. Each of these actions represent the ways in which unionized faculty and students really do our work: we teach and rally, we elucidate and discuss, we organized and settle contracts. Unions and their members are committed to all of these activities, and none of them can happen in isolation. Without our specialized knowledge and skills, we can’t teach or research effectively; without bringing attention to the problems of our times, we can’t find solutions; without fair contracts, we can’t effectively do any our jobs.

Earlier that same week, at UIUC’s Annual Meeting of the Faculty, University President Timothy Killeen and Interim Chancellor Barb Wilson addressed the role of NTTs on our campus (which the administration refers to as “specialized faculty”). Killeen described us as “part of our family,” who “need to be listened to” and “respected.” Wilson went on to describe her sense of the administration’s ideal relationship with the NTT faculty: “our goal is to create a stable and strong sense of commitment to our specialized faculty.”

We couldn’t agree more, but Killeen and Wilson both deferred on the mechanisms by which that lofty rhetoric would be translated into action. Wilson mentioned contract negotiations, and that negotiations with NTFC were but one of the more than twenty or so that are ongoing (in one stage or another) at UIUC. Which is quite true. But we have been negotiating our first contract for more than a year, having starting at the beginning of October 2014. To date, we’ve tentatively agreed on only a handful of proposals, and the administrative bargaining has taken more than six months to respond in any way to our economic proposal. They now blame the stalled state budget, but didn’t want to propose such language in the months before the budget crisis, so the delay seems more tactical than anything else.

Our members deserve the “respect” that President Killeen suggests and we demand to be listened to. It’s all well and good to have administrators take a few questions from us at their occasional fora for doing so, but those principles must be translated into the negotiating room. When the administration’s bargaining team proposes that management rights includes their full control over all aspects of “courses, curriculum, and instruction, including content, methods, and instructional material […] the nature and the form of assignments required […] research, research compliance and academic integrity, and other scholarly, scientific, and service-related activities [… as well as] grading policies and practices,” where is the respect? When they retreat to caucus for more than half of each bargaining session, where is the respect? When they aren’t even sure what their proposed language means or why they included it, where is the respect?

NTFC Local #6546 isn’t going away, and we’re not going to wait around for respect; we’re demanding it. We’ll be making our work visible. We’ll be making our demands visible. We are not alone—there are thousands of other union members across the three University of Illinois campuses. And we want the same thing: fair contracts that give us the respect, security, and stability to do our jobs and make the University of Illinois work.
We’re not going away, and we’re not going to wait.

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