This summer's ruling ordering the return of furlough pay is one the new SIU administration would be wise not to ignore
By Randall Auxier
Editor's note: Last week, three unions representing employees at SIU announced an administrative law judge's ruling concluding that because of unfair bargaining strategies, the SIU administration wrongly imposed four unpaid furlough days on workers in 2011 and now must repay them.
First, I want to make it clear that I was among those who sat across the table from the administration bargaining team in 2010-2011. They like to call themselves "the University" while we, the peons in the FA, NTTFA, and ACeS, are expected to go by less exalted titles. I refuse to play that game. They are not "the University." They weren't even fit to speak for it. I sat across from people far less committed to or knowledgeable about SIUC than were the people on the IEA side of the table. The fact that most members of their "team" have moved on to other places, and came from other places, using SIUC as a stepping stone, should be a clear enough indication of their level of commitment to us.
On the FA side of the table, I think the average length of service to SIUC exceeded 20 years, and all members were career-SIUC faculty. I sat there, for two years, volunteering my time and energy, being actively disrespected and repeatedly lied to by these cynical people who dared to call themselves "the University." It is not easy to explain to people who have never endured this kind of disrespect what it is like to do so, day in and day out, for years. I was a veteran of the 2006 bargaining effort, and as difficult as that was, I never felt disrespected.
The process from 2010 to late 2011 was toxic from the beginning. It was very clear to those of us who haplessly volunteered to endure it that this was headed nowhere good. The administration hired a brash and conceited young lawyer from Oklahoma named D. Shane Jones whose specialty is breaking unions. God only knows how much they paid him, but they didn't really get a good deal even if he had worked for free. They stupidly followed his foolish strategy straight into a strike that they lost and that has permanently scarred the campus. Jones was also the one ultimately responsible for the loss of the recent IELRB ruling. He is a foolish man who, I would opine, believes he is far smarter than anyone he happens to be talking to, but he wasn't smart enough to check to see what the BOT team, itself, had placed into evidence in the recent case. Their packet included their own private notes from internal team meetings.
These notes demonstrated they were bargaining in bad faith - which is difficult to prove under normal circumstances. They convicted themselves with evidence they submitted from the depths of their almost perfect incompetence.
We all certainly knew they were bargaining in bad faith; it was obvious. But the public isn't there, and we had decided together not to wreck the bargaining process by making accusations publicly about what they were doing. They, on the other hand, were more than willing to tell the press that we were the ones blocking progress. It was never even close to being true. The IELRB decision provides a summary of the facts. So we spent weeks, months, finally over a year enduring their pretense of bargaining when it was obvious to us that all they wanted was the minimum requirements for declaring impasse, so that they could impose terms, reduce our wages and salaries, and, with luck, they hoped, leave us in disarray, divided, weak and submissive. They probably could have succeeded in doing all this, if they had been smart enough. But in fact, they made six or eight crucial errors and lost. Most of them got out with their shirts and their suitcases, anyway. A few fell in ignominy. Now the court has upheld what we knew all along: that we were subjected to terrible behavior by dishonest, extremely foolish and cynical people. I'm glad they are gone, and so is anyone else who has even a modicum of moral decency.
I think the new administration has not had an encouraging response to the IELRB decision. They say they "respectfully disagree." It is not possible to disagree respectfully with the court's decision - the case is beyond doubting. But I'm sure the new administration is unhappy with having to find the money, and perhaps they will even drag this out further, if it gets them time before having to pay. That is not a good sign for future relations. Anything I can do to make our new leaders aware that it will be better to pay than to try to fight this further is worth doing. But they need to do more than simply pay. They need to apologize for the misdeeds of the previous administration, and they should do so with contrition. They must understand that not our credibility, the long suffering employees of SIUC, but theirs is in doubt. Bold action to say to us "this will not happen again" is what is needed.
The disrespect for the employees of SIUC is beyond believing, but they have been equally disrespectful of the law itself, in all of its vital functions, and they have done all of this in full knowledge it was wrong. That adds up to malice. Restitution, therefore, is not the full solution. How much does the public have to hear before it accepts the malicious incompetence of these people? The admission of wrongdoing, the admission of poor judgment, the statement of an intent not to allow it to recur, and an unusually transparent approach in the near future, in which not only employees but the public is allowed full access to the processes, records and books of the administration is needed.
The new administration needs to understand that they are the ones whose credibility is in doubt. If they want to destroy us further, then questioning the IELRB decision further is a good way to start. But I stand ready to help the university take a new direction. Still, I am also ready to scrutinize every decision, every press release and everything I can get by FOIA to expose further lies and misdeeds. I do hate being lied to and lied about. That is what has been done to those of us who had to negotiate with these cynical, ambitious, immoral people. We have serious problems at SIUC overhanging from the previous administration. Will they be addressed? We should wait to see, but we should not wait long. ---------------------------------------- Randall Auxier is a professor in the Department of Philosophy at SIU. *********************************************