Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Happy Songs for the Strike Vote Blues

As children, we learn to count the age of a tree by the number of lines marking the passage of time. Adults measure age by the wrinkles on their face. And nothing causes wrinkles more than worry (unscientific observation). With furrowed brows, Saluki faculty have yet to bring out in song, either by singing the blues, shouting union songs or joining a chorus of "Up With People."

Ecclesiastes states that "there is a time" for everything, including worry. But this blog is about being happy in the face of worry. So put on some new shoes, drink a margarita, and choose your favorite of the following "Happy Songs." Nominations welcome and I'll try to add them! For a list of ideas, see Spin's list of the top ten "happy songs."

Here are three with the #1 pick recommended by Professor Jonathan Wiesen (and also one of my favorite happy songs). Good timing, Jonathan, now that R.E.M. just broke up! But, hey, we'll save "breaking up" songs for another day . . .

Enjoy and recommend!

#3: "New Shoes" (Paolo Nutini)

#2: "Don't Worry Be Happy" (Bobby McFerrin)

#1: "Shiny Happy People" (R.E.M.) -- redirects to the Youtube video in high quality.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Why I Will Vote "No" to a Strike (Part II)

In a previous post, I explained why I think the FA's two major strike issues--tenure and distance education--are based on unsubstantiated fear and certainly no reason to go on strike. This post discusses other reasons to vote "no" next Wednesday. Feel free to add or subtract from the list (by arguing back!). This is a long post but I have included two short Hollywood movie clips to keep you interested. Suggestions for other Hollywood metaphors appreciated!

What is a strike? The unions threatening to strike state:
While there is no legal definition of a strike in the Labor Act, our operative description is, “a concerted refusal to perform day-to-day work duties to disrupt the normal operation of an employer.”
For faculty, disruption of "normal operations" means we do not teach our students, we do not advise our graduate students, and we do not conduct research with the tools provided by our employer.

Some people argue that unions exist to strike. In fact, many public employee unions are prohibited from striking. This would include police, fire fighters, and all federal employees. Moreover, unions perform functions that have nothing to do with strikes: for example, they provide grievance support, legal insurance, and collective bargaining without a work stoppage.

*Strikers are free riders: Typically, the union argument is that non-union members are free riders who benefit from union-secured gains. During a strike, those who continue to work are carrying the load of those who are not working. They help to keep the "normal operations" going as best they can while their striking colleagues walk away. If the strike results in minimal benefits but includes a "back-to-work" clause to end a weak strike, then those strikers get back pay for not working.

*Strikers lose pay, administrators still get paid: The FA has demonized administrators and wants to "hit back" with a strike to get their attention. NEWS FLASH! The administrators still get paid, the only people who lose are the students (more on that later) and the strikers, unless there is bargaining "success."

*What does the FA consider "success"?  Inserting tenure and no-layoff language that is more to their liking? I've already argued that any change in wording is only to address a fear that is unsubstantiated particularly given the wave of retirements this year. If that is "success," it is status quo success, IMHO (see previous post). The FA has asked for 1.25 months salary for teaching a distance ed course. A month's salary (the norm for summer) is not enough. This was never an issue with summer teaching but now that we have online courses, it is "unfair" if we earn less than 1.25 months/salary per course. If administration agrees, it would mean teachers have to offer courses with very high enrollment to pay for these gilded teaching slots. But FA doesn't like thinking in terms of cost recovery either so around and around we go in this Alice in Wonderland world. 

*"Show me the money!"  In the movie Jerry Maguire (1996) a professional athlete is trying to get his agent's attention as to what really matters to him. The athlete is concerned with the bottom line, but the FA (our Jerry Maguire) says that this strike is "not about the money." If the FA played Tom Cruise's part and said "it's not about the money," the movie would have ended right here:

The FA insists there is a surplus here at SIUC. When have they ever admitted that a) there was a deficit or b) it might be prudent to have a "rainy day fund"? But this year there will be mass retirements and they could bargain for slightly higher pay in return for giving up some faculty lines. But they won't do that because they want to maintain "quality education" even though we all hope to muddle through without layoffs. The only way is through attrition until we reach a time when we can afford to "preserve faculty lines."

*"Preserving faculty lines" = higher risk of layoffs: Face it, if there are fewer of us here to do the "normal operations" of our employer, we have greater job security.

*"I'm not going to actually strike, but I want to strengthen the union position by voting 'yes'":  I've heard this many times on campus. Keep in mind: if you vote "yes" you probably told people you were voting "yes" and they would expect you to act accordingly if there is a strike. If you cross the picket line, you probably have earned the term "scab" (an ugly term from the union-label factory). You will be seen that way. On the other hand, if you are on record voting "no," then hold your head high and go to work. You have voted your conscience and acted on it.

*Back to work pay: The union assures us that strikes "usually" last only two weeks. Maybe yes, maybe no. Frankly, as I posted elsewhere on this blog, there have not been many strikes in higher ed since the Meltdown of 2008. Will you get paid for the time you were off? Maybe yes, maybe no. People are already calculating how long they could go on strike. You may borrow money from the IEA but it must be paid back. I have my doubts as to how generous the IEA would be since they only get 1/3 of faculty members to contribute here at SIUC. The IEA prefers to have dues from 100% of members; that is why the FA/IEA is demanding "fair share" fees for those who refuse to join the union.

*Fair share isn't fair--know your rights:  I'm confident the FA will not get fair share from the administration. As a FA member, I do not want to coerce fellow faculty into paying against their will. Moreover, I want the right to "vote with my feet" by leaving the union if I think it is irresponsible. If "fair share" comes about, look up your rights to rebates of the fees at this web site.

*Striking will hurt some departments more than others: Want to really damage your college or department's position on campus? Shut down operations and leave your students wondering what to do. Trust me: a strike will show fault lines of union support/nonsupport. I suspect my college (liberal arts) will be hit hard by a strike. Not good. It would take years, if ever, to recover.

*A strike hurts students: The FA barely mentions students. The strike is aimed at the administration but will hit current students and may dissuade future students from coming here. The FA retort is that "this is in the best long-term interests of students." How high-minded of the FA to break a few eggs (current students) to make an omelet of better education in the future!

*The federal government may freeze financial aid: This is not hypothetical. Last month, a NEA faculty union went on strike at Youngstown State University (16,000 students). The U.S. Department of Education took swift action and ordered the administration to freeze federal financial aid to students. That forced the union to call off the strike. If students lose financial aid, and the union continues to strike, we will lose semester when the administration is forced to cease operations. That is not disruption, it is destruction.

Even if financial aid remains for this semester at SIUC, how will students manage a delayed semester when they have to work back home? Yeah, this is going to be REAL popular with students and parents.

*Show me a winner! There were some successful strikes that I listed previously but they were all pre-2008. Since 2008, I have identified three faculty strikes: Central Michigan (sent to binding arbitration per Michigan Law), Long Island University (strike ended with 6% of raises over five years, a net loss after inflation), and Youngstown State, which does not look hopeful. Again, if there are more, show me the winners. Who wins in a strike? Read this cautionary tale of a strike that "nearly killed the university"--written by a former militant unionist who crossed the picket in a 1990 strike and then successfully decertified the union.

*Let us be a little grateful: for what we have as faculty. Secure jobs (despite FA rhetoric) and really good health insurance. We pay only 10% of the $1905 spent on Health Alliance for a household of three or more (including dental). As a person with intractable medical issues (and braces for one child this fall!), I am not reassured by the blithe FA line "don't worry, you can sign up for COBRA insurance later if something happens."

*Remember Thelma & Louise? I'll end with the final 1.5 minutes of that classic movie. It's a great ending in a movie theater but not in real life. Don't let your vote be for pushing the medal to "accelerate" off the cliff. . . .

Thursday, September 22, 2011

OPEN FORUM: What Do Students Think of a Strike?

At the Deo Volente web site, an anonymous student posted the following:
 "I just want to thank everyone involved in this whole mess, that after 1 month here as a transfer student I will be transferring to another school after this semester....get it sorted out!"
This is an open space for students to react to a possible strike by faculty and staff. Feel free to be anonymous but no ad hominem attacks on people.

Any response is fine but I'd also like to know how a strike might alter your plans, if at all. Would you color your view of SIUC as an institution of higher education, either positively or negatively?

FYI: "Anonymous" is boring so feel free to follow our Founding Fathers by using pen names (Cato, Brutus, Claudius, or something modern like "50 Cent" LOL).

Fire away!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Why I am Voting "No" to a Strike (Part I)

[NOTE: This two-part message offers a viewpoint differing from that of my colleague Professor Zaretsky. Please read her post, Deo Volente discussions, and my own reflections below. We FA members have a week to decide and even change our minds, as I have done before deciding that NOW is not the time]

After paying close attention to what the Faculty Association (FA) has been saying, as well as the fine details of administration statements and terms, I have decided to vote "no" on a strike at this time.

This does not come easily because I am unhappy with the current proposed raises and believe the substantial retirements this year mean more work at the same pay. I would hope that the administration could offer those of us left behind a small slice of the pie (hundreds of workers will retire this year. Do the math).

Unfortunately, the FA leaders insist that this is not about modest pay raises or short-term job security. Instead, they have whipped themselves up over perceived "attacks on tenure" and "forced teaching of online courses."

The FA's Distance Ed claims are false, even by the administration's imposed terms (see Addendum D). I might add that the transition to online education has been rocky and there is no way the administration is in a position to force people online. More important: for years, faculty screamed for unit control and credit for courses taught online. Distance Education credit hours and responsibility are now at the department and college level. We asked, we got, now we live with the rocky transition from central to unit control.

To write contract language "no professor shall be required to teach online" goes against the decentralization of programs that are being put in place after departments and colleges decided to create them. Some colleges now offer certificates and degree programs with an online component. If Mass Communications or Education create programs with an online component, then shouldn't they be allowed to hire people who teach an online course in their area of expertise?

Even the FA knows this is a straw man: at last Friday's Q & A, Professor Auxier conceded that there would be more than enough volunteers and it is not going to be an issue in the short term. But, then, the FA flies off into the stratosphere of "power politics." "They" want to make "us" do as they please and it is theoretically possible that some time down the road this may be an issue. Perhaps, but not in the next 3-4 years! Why are they leading a strike movement with this weak non-issue?

The Chancellor's email today puts forth the administration position that financial exigency (or program elimination) is required to terminate faculty. There is added job security because of retirements and the hiring freeze. Plus those with tenure are listed (even under imposed terms) as the last to be laid off.
"The full or partial layoff of Faculty members in the level of organization as determined by the Board to which the layoff applies shall be in the order listed below:
a.         Full-time untenured tenure-track Faculty;
b.         Tenured Faculty."
Those same "imposed terms" scratch out the following no-layoff clause:
"No Faculty member shall be laid off for financial exigency during the 2006-2007, 2007-2008, 2008-2009, and 2009-2010 fiscal years."
Given the above factors, how bad would things have to get before they laid off tenured people? When our 2006-2010 contract expired, President Randy Hughes assured me that it would be very unlikely layoffs would ever reach tenured faculty unless things were really bad (as in "financial exigency" bad). But now the union leadership is leading us into a strike based on a quixotic battle with something that a) hasn't happened and b) is likely never to occur!

The 2006-2010 clause granted no-layoff security even with a financial exigency--a higher bar than the Board Policy which calls for financial exigency before terminating faculty. Still, declaring "exigency" means the Board believes the very existence of the institution is threatened and that would send SIUC's borrowing costs sky-high (not to mention the bad press).

Can I live with financial exigency as the "bar" needed to lay off faculty? You bet. Demanding more is really setting tenure-track faculty in a position so secure that we only share that privileged position with one other group: U.S. Supreme Court justices!

The FA insists that "financial exigency" is not in a new union contract. Even if true, so what? The FA view is that the whole universe exists within the union contract:
no contract clause = no tenure rights. . .
Step back from the ledge and imagine the following: you are teaching at a college or university of your choice. You are a tenured professor. Are you freaking out about your "insecure tenure" because your college has no union? Of course not.

Again, since the FA is fond of hypotheticals, imagine a contract with no "financial exigency" clause. The Board policy remains (with financial exigency required for terminations). This could be the basis of lawsuits for wrongful termination, as was the case back in the 1970s. Does any one believe the administration wants to go through that again? I have criticized many administration policies over the years but I am not that paranoid.*
*If the Board eliminated its "financial exigency" policy (as the FA says it might), then I will seriously consider a strike. But we haven't crossed that bridge, have we?
"We strike for tenure" is a loser argument in this economic climate. Lifetime job security is never popular even in good times. Privately, FA members will say tenure = lifetime job security (and, hey, I'm all for that!) but when outsiders accuse FA leaders of desiring lifetime jobs, they retort "that's not true!" But, really, it is true if the FA insists on a no-layoff clause in each and every contract.

The informative, vigorous discussions at another web site make one thing clear: those strongly in favor of a strike believe this is not about money or short-term (as opposed to life-long) job security. Perhaps they wish to seize some "moral high ground." Yet who is not in a union for better pay? That's why I joined and the last contract was good for me. I grow fearful when my union puts bread-and-butter issues below some "larger cause" (particularly one that seems purely hypothetical).

The FA leadership also favors a strike to make the administration "bargain in good faith." But given the malevolence they have ascribed to the administration (with particular demonization of Cheng) one would think the "Evil Empire" (as one person characterized the administration) would "Strike Back" during a strike (apologies to the creators of Star Wars for the reference). The students would be collateral damage (more on that in Part II).

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Replacement Workers during a SIUC Faculty Strike

 The Daily Egyptian reported the following:

“Chancellor Rita Cheng said if the unions were to go on strike, the university would ensure minimal impact on students. She said substitute teachers would be called in and administrators would teach classes.”

And at what point may the university hire faculty to replace those who are on strike? “Substitute teachers” sure sounds like “replacement workers” and they won’t be hard to find. That will only make the union picketing meaner. 

Seeking Success: Any Faculty Strike Victories of Late?

The Long Island University faculty cancelled their strike after six days, accepting 6.5% in raises over 5 years. The Youngstown State University faculty called a strike, then called it off. Doesn't look hopeful there either.

Central Michigan Faculty voted to strike but a judge signed an injunction sending them back to work. They are waiting for a fact-finding report. That report won't come out until late October or early November.

A previous post of mine listed successful strikes but they were all in the pre-2008 years. Still looking for a clear union victory. Does anyone have something for our victory column?

NEWS FLASH: Strike Fund Loan Details!!

What are the timelines, procedures, and standards related to the IEA-NEA interest-free strike loan program?

1)      You must be an enrolled IEA-NEA member at the time of the loan request and remain a member until the loan is repaid [usually a period of six month repayment.]
2)      The local must be on strike at least ten (10) work days and have the likelihood of a missed check (or  a check with reduced pay) before the interest-free loan program can be instituted. The paperwork for the loan is usually implemented in such a way that the actual check should be available at the end of a ten (10) workday period if needed.
3)      A loan may not be for more than the “net pay”, i.e., your gross pay minus payroll taxes. So for faculty and grad assistants with monthly paychecks the rule of thumb is ½ of the monthly net pay and for civil service employees it is the bi-weekly net amount.
4)      Individuals must sign the IEA-NEA loan agreement document as well as any loan documents that may be required by the lending institution. A copy of your latest pay stub is needed to substantiate the amount of the loan.
5)      More information will be provided by your local Strike Loan Committee if and when a strike action takes place.
6)      Only borrow what you absolutely need.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

COBRA Health Insurance Costs: Here are the Numbers

If the Faculty Association goes on strike, the leadership noted that strikers are covered by COBRA. If the administration is really as malevolent as the FA makes it out to be, then assume a scenario where strikers are left paying the full cost of their health insurance.

How much would that be for a family of four? (For other household configurations, consult this chart. I have a family of four (three dependents) under Health Alliance Illinois. If I went on strike, the cost would be $1,803 + $102 for dental = $1,905. The COBRA rates are roughly the same for other plans.

For more information on COBRA, see



As you can see from the second link, "it's complicated." But learn your rights. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Strike Fund? Questions About IEA Loans

In its strike FAQ, the FA/IEA mentions zero interest loans to cover insurance costs. Those costs may be nothing, since the state already paid SIUC for our coverage OR they may run up to the full unsubsidized insurance cost. It's all up in the air.

The question of a lending fund for strikes is key: what will IEA loans cover? Insurance, lost pay? And for how long? Is there a cap? Finally, most importantly, the IEA site mentions the generosity of other NEA affiliates in contributing to such zero interest loan funds. That suggests it is left up to the "generosity" of other locals? Or does the IEA has a central revolving fund? I asked the IEA organizer at the FA meeting yesterday and he promised to get back to me. Let's hope so because how many people have the savings to go on strike and pay the family's bills??

*UPDATED* Youngstown Univ. Strike: Situation to Monitor as SIU Faculty Consider Strike

My last post consisted of links to strikes by faculty at Illinois colleges. All those strikes occurred before the Crash of 2008. I found one strike called by Youngstown State Univ. faculty (NEA affiliate) but then called off. For details, follow news stories on that story since it is running in real time as SIUC heads toward a strike vote:

*8/20: With a letter of intent to strike sent by the union, the U.S. Department of Education urged the university to withhold financial aid from students. Students rallied against being "held hostage" by the administration.

8/25: http://www.vindy.com/news/2011/aug/25/ysu-responds-to-faculty-strike-vote/

8/26: http://blog.cleveland.com/metro/2011/08/youngstown_state_university_fa.html

9/14: Talks resume: http://goo.gl/KDqwg

9/16: Followup action from faculty activists: http://goo.gl/vNhLR

NOTE: While YSU saw enrollment increase since 2000, it dropped in past few years: http://goo.gl/Wurr1

I'll be contacting union officials there to find out what was involved. There was mention in one comment that a YSU professor said he couldn't afford $500 COBRA payment and was going to forgo health insurance.

If you know anyone at YSU, contact them for info. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mayor Emanuel versus Chicago Teacher Union

Capitolfax.com has yet another story on how ham-handed the AFT teacher union is in Chicago. The union hates Emanuel and the hatred is mutual (expletives from the mayor deleted). Last year, Emanuel got the state to pass a law that raised the necessary strike vote to 75% in Cook County. And now he has the teacher union boxed in on school reform.

This is why people, even in Democratic cities, turn on teacher unions. Personally, I believe SIUC, like most such employers, gets the unions it deserves but I sure wish it weren't one of the duopoly (NEA/AFT). Currently, I'm like John McCain's mother: she said to her party's members who thought McCain stunk that they ought to "hold their noses" and stick with the campaign.

Right now I'm holding my nose and hoping for the best. But I sure wish my local union were affiliated with a national that didn't stink.

Postscript: Imagine Governor Emanuel! His approval ratings are very high in Chicago and his well-known anti-union stance doesn't seem to bother the same Democratic characters who got so riled up by Governor Scott Walker. Surprise, surprise.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Books That Make Us Human: My Top Ten List

Professor Brad Birzer, a man of unbounded energy, asked several of us to contribute a "top ten" list of books that make us human. Quite a challenge: limited to ten books, what would you (dear reader) choose and why?

See my list at The Imaginative Conservative web site. It starts with a book by this man:

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Enrollment Numbers: SIUE, U of I Hit Record Highs, SIUC Sings the Blues

What else is new? This fall semester, SIU's Edwardsville campus saw more new students, more applications and a record number of all students on campus. Ditto University of Illinois. No need to parse out the spots of strength in an otherwise cloudy forecast. "Nothing but blue skies up ahead."

SIU-E is less expensive than SIU-C, morale seems higher (can't be lower than Carbondale!), and the infrastructure is nice on the eyes (compare Faner Hall, Housing Towers at SIUC). I wonder if professors at SIU-E watch their drip buckets to capture the leaking pipes in the offices? Probably not.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New Firing Line: Sexual Harassment as Excuse to Fire Faculty

From East Georgia College: the latest in a string of cases involving abuse of the "sexual harassment" codes. These codes can be used to expel students later found to be innocent (see my previous blog entry) or terminate faculty for speaking out against "sexual harassment" codes that lack due process.

All too often, the accused is guilty-until-proven-innocent. Even then, students and faculty can still be thrown off campus because the administration doesn't feel they will make for a "comfortable environment." Oh, no, we can't have tenure-track faculty criticizing our administrative czars, especially if they wrap the Star Chamber with sweet sounding rhetoric about an "institutional commitment to a harassment-free campus." Offering a different viewpoint thus constitutes harassment itself!

Thank God for the lawyers at FIRE and ACLU local chapters. This is also an issue being fought by the Faculty Association. It is a battle against university lawyers who err on the side of being overprotective of those who might be harassed. This buys them, in their way of thinking, some legal insurance against lawsuits that claim they didn't "do enough." FIRE, ACLU, FA help level the legal battlefield.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Strikes and Alternatives: What About Binding Arbitration?

Since my union is emailing me "strike watches," I went in search of information on what makes for a successful strike, particularly in a competitive market (that would include higher education, where students can simply leave).

I didn't find much in my end-of-day search but the links below are a start on strikes and binding arbitration as a permissible alternative in Illinois:

How to Go on Strike

How to End a Strike

Several colleagues have mentioned binding arbitration as a desirable end. The Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB) has supported binding arbitration as an alternative to strikes while backing a law that would prohibit strikes by public employees.

Illinois Education Association has a FAQ on rights that mentions binding arbitration although the context is not clear:  "All collective bargaining agreements are required to include a grievance procedure ending in binding arbitration and provision prohibiting strikes during the duration of the agreement."

Another source states that binding arbitration is "permitted" in Illinois:
ILLINOIS: Educational employees at all levels permitted to bargain under the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act. However, several types of employees, including supervisors, managers, confidential employees, short-term employees, and students, are excluded from bargaining by statute. Impasse procedures include mediation and fact-finding. Arbitration is permitted. Strikes are permitted after several conditions set forth in the statute are met.
Read the Illinois law here and here. Michigan's law seems much stronger and mandatory, according to this source. See also this link.

No talk of strike funds (probably none) or the option of binding arbitration. This happened when faculty struck at Central Michigan University. A judge ordered the instructors back to work but also imposed binding arbitration.

If there is any one out there who knows more about these issues, feel free to comment or, better yet, post a blog (with your name or pseudonym if you prefer!). I'm sure inquiring minds on campus would love to know more about the ins and outs of strikes, the alternatives, possible outcomes, etc.

I'd sure love to know more. Perhaps someone at the National Labor College knows? I'll try to contact them later.