27 April 2016

How Is this Mediation Session Different from All Other Mediation Sessions?

This blog post is certainly different from all other blog posts. I'm typing it with my thumbs on my cell phone, using a colleague's hotspot, from a folding chair, in a hallway outside the office of the President of the University of Illinois. Members of NTFC Local 6546 are conducting a "work-in" while we await news from the mediation session across campus, about whether the administration is willing to move forward on a fair contract with NTT faculty.

Two new developments for this session: (1) Interim Provost Ed Feser is sitting in with the administratio'ns bargaining team; (2) the session started on time, by virtue of the admin team showing up an unprecedented 20 minutes early.

It's good news, as far as it goes. One hopes that these gestures of taking the union seriously are not the only effects of the two-day strike last week.  Members had hoped for more evidence that the administration was prepared to move towards a fair contract before this. In the absence of such evidence, a meeting for a second strike vote has already been scheduled for the end of today. So a lot rides on whatever is happening in mediation right now.

Here's what most people who haven't done this before don't know (I certainly didn't): a mediator has to be called in before a union can legally call a strike. Used to be, strikes were so ubiquitous that they routinely got in the way of doing business.  The federal mediation system came about as a way of reducing the number of strikes.

NTFC #6546 chose to strike when it became clear that the administration was not using the mediation process as a way to move forward towards a contract, that they were bringing to mediation the same lack of preparation and engagement that they had brought to a year and a half of bargaining sessions.

Mediation did not serve to prevent last week's labor action, so here we are again, waiting to see if the administration values the faculty who teach at the state's flagship as much as they value the faculty at UIC, if they are willing to grant instructors here the same job security and working conditions that faculty in Chicago get.

What's being held hostage here is the concern faculty have for their students, their love of teaching, their commitment to their disciplines.

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