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Topic: Zaretsky: What the furlough ruling means
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Jerry P. Becker

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Zaretsky: What the furlough ruling means
Posted: Aug 19, 2014 11:35 AM
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From The Southern Illiniosan, Tuesday, August 19,
2014. See

Zaretsky: What the furlough ruling means

By Natasha Zaretsky

Martin Luther King Jr. famously observed: "the
arc of the moral universe is long but it bends
toward justice." We are living at a time when
that bend can be very difficult to see. But for
faculty and civil service workers at Southern
Illinois University in Carbondale, the arc inched
a bit closer to justice last month, when an
Administrative Law Judge for the Illinois
Educational Labor Relations Board ruled that in
2011, the university violated state labor laws by
declaring an impasse at the bargaining table and
imposing terms that included four unpaid furlough
days. The judge in the case, Colleen Harvey,
called for a "make whole" remedy for all affected
employees: the return of their lost wages with

In order to understand the significance of this
ruling, one needs to go back to a painful chapter
in the history of the university: the months
leading up to the strike of November 2011. During
that period, the Administration and the four IEA
local unions (representing graduate assistants,
civil service professionals, and non-tenured,
tenured, and tenure-track faculty) offered
conflicting accounts of what was happening at the
bargaining table. On the one side were the four
union bargaining teams, who insisted that the
administration was unwilling to negotiate in any
meaningful way. They feared that the
administration was attempting to thwart the
bargaining process with the ultimate goal of
weakening the unions (possibly fatally) and
imposing terms. On the other side was the
administration, which insisted that it was doing
its absolute best, but that the unions simply did
not grasp the financial pressures bearing down on
the university and the extent to which these
pressures constrained them at the bargaining
table. Out of this insistence emerged a damning
portrait of SIU Carbndale employees as naïve at
best and selfish at worst. Faced with these two
conflicting accounts, many members of our
community were left with the question: who was
telling the truth?

Last month's ruling answers that question
decisively. It utterly vindicates the unions,
showing that their bargaining teams remained
flexible in their willingness to compromise and
in their efforts to move negotiations forward.
Simultaneously, the ruling reveals that the
unions' deepest fears in 2011 were entirely well
founded. Drawing on the minutes from the
administration's own internal meetings, Judge
Harvey showed that the administration's strategy
- one explicitly articulated throughout its own
paper trail -- was to reject proposals over and
over again and obstruct the negotiation process
with the aim of arriving at impasse as quickly as
possible. The unfortunate result, as we all know,
was the first strike in the history of SIU

Why revisit this moment now? After all, many of
the key administrative players are gone, and
there is a new leadership in place that has
expressed a refreshing appreciation for values
that the campus unions have long been fighting
for: greater transparency and shared governance.
It is tempting to consign the events of 2011 to a
quickly receding past and to gloss over prior
conflicts. But this history matters because it
has a bearing on our present: contract
negotiations between the university and the four
IEA locals are starting up again, and the
financial pressures on the university have not
gone away. What will the future hold for us? And
how we can we facilitate an inclusive, respectful
dialogue about our collective future that will
encourage all stakeholders - faculty, staff,
students, and administrators - to play a role?

By championing basic principles of good faith
bargaining, the ruling itself points the way
forward: a bargaining process in which all
players come to the table with an open mind and a
genuine desire to arrive at a mutually acceptable
agreement. This process will make the university
stronger, much as it has in the past. The
unequivocal nature of the ruling also leaves no
doubt about what the incoming administration must
do when it comes to Judge Harvey's "make whole"
remedy. While not responsible for the illegal
imposition of the furloughs, it has now been
charged with cleaning up the mess. By accepting
the ruling and moving swiftly to restore our lost
wages, the new administration can help to heal
and repair campus relations that in recent years
have been sorely tested. In the process, it can
play its own small but decisive role in moving
the arc a bit closer to justice. It is time for a
new chapter.
Natasha Zaretsky is an Associate Professor of History at SIU in Carbondale.
Natasha Zaretsky

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