Southern Illinois University Carbondale owes roughly 1,500 current and former employees about $1.9 million in back wages to cover four furlough days employees were forced to take in 2011.
In her July ruling, Judge Colleen Harvey, an administrative law judge with the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board, found that the former administration at SIU illegally pushed "to the point of impasse" three unions affiliated with the Illinois Education Association that represent employees at the university.
The affected SIU unions are: the Association of Civil-Service Employees, the SIU Faculty Association; and the Non-Tenure Track Faculty Association.
"This decision represents a victory not only for the unions that filed the unfair labor practice charge and the employees they represent, but also for the principles and practice of good faith collective bargaining," said Faculty Association President Rachel Stocking. Her union represents about 600 tenure-track faculty members.
Union representatives noted that in the ruling, Judge Harvey also stated that the SIU administration at that time "demonstrated that it lacked an open mind and a sincere desire to reach an agreement."
In a statement, SIU said it is "currently considering its legal options, which include a review of the (judge's) recommendations by the full (board). Following a decision by the full (board), either party may still appeal to the Illinois courts."
"The university respectfully disagrees with the (judge's) recommendations, as the university believes they do not reflect the extensive nature of bargaining and did not adequately consider the university's extremely difficult budget situation," the statement continued.
The main administrative players at the bargaining table in 2010-2011 are no longer in those roles as SIU has ushered in a new president, chancellor and provost.
The recession-era decision by the then-SIU administration to furlough employees in the face of severe state budget problems further aggravated contract negotiations that were ongoing that year. The SIUC Faculty Association members went on a six-day strike in November 2011, while the other three unions were able to reach an agreement with university administrators to avoid walk outs.
Representatives of the respective unions said they hope this ruling sends a clear message to the current SIU administration as collective bargaining begins again in earnest this fall.
Jim Wall, president of the union that represents more than 600 non-tenure track full- and part-time faculty, said it's time to "put the past behind us."
"These are people that really like what they do," he said of union members. "These are professionals that get up in the morning and really look forward to going in and doing their teaching. This isn't a bunch of disgruntled auto workers in the stereotypical union situation."
Wall acknowledged that there are people who do not agree with white-collar professionals having collective representation, but the rules should be followed for the process that is in place, he said.
"An entity, the university, cannot simply impose terms and conditions without negotiating," he said. "The university broke the law."
Wall said that for him it wasn't so much that employees were furloughed, as the manner in which the university went about enforcing the unpaid time off without accepting alternative suggestions from the unions' representatives.
Throughout that time period in the nation, it was commonplace for companies and governments at all levels to require employees to take unpaid time off to shore up budgets during the Great Recession and in its wake.
"That (the furloughs) wasn't the problem," he said. "The problem was they didn't work with these groups in good faith to try to find a solution Our honest hope in all sincerity is that these types of things would stop."
Ami Ruffing, whose civil service union represents some 400 secretaries, office managers, technicians and others in similar roles on campus, said that during bargaining of 2011, administration members "shouted at us," "cursed at us" and "really treated us with contempt."
She said employees represented by that union are the lowest paid on campus, making $25,000 or less. Some people qualified for food stamps after the salary cuts, she said.
Moving forward, Stocking said she's hoping for "much more positive understanding of how the different interests can be mutually addressed in a beneficial way instead of banging heads and disagreeing about everything."
In its statement, the university also said that as higher education continues to face new challenges, including financial constraints, "we remain committed to our partnership with all unions to find appropriate solutions that serve the good of our students and the entire university community." ----------------------------------- SIDEBAR PHOTO: Faculty Association members and supporters picket Nov. 4, 2011, at the corner of Oakland Avenue and Chautauqua Road in Carbondale. A judge ruled that SIU must reimburse employees for 2011 furloughs, which was a contributing factor in a breakdown of negotiations between unions and the university. --------------------------- 618-351-5079 --- firstname.lastname@example.org *******************************************