Illinois Education Association Responds to St Xavier President Wiseman’s Letter to Adjuncts

Strikers and police, 1937

Famous Republic Steel Strike in 1937. A confrontation between strikers and police turns violent as strikers throw bricks and stones and the police fire tear gas outside a Chicago steel mill. (Photo courtesy AP / Wide World)

St Xavier University President Chris Wiseman sent a letter to the adjunct faculty on June 10, 2011 urging them to vote beginning June 24 against forming a union affiliated with the 133,000 member Illinois Education Association IEA. The letter without citing examples of anti-Catholic bias or antipathy to the Sisters of Mercy, the founding order of the university, states the IEA does not “respect our Catholic identity.” It is a serious allegation. The letter states that the financial challenges of the university would be exacerbated if an adjunct union were formed. There is a thirty-year old union currently of the full-time and portion of full-time faculty that is independent. The president lists various benefits and other perquisites, such as free parking, that adjuncts receive at St Xavier and claims that the per course remuneration of $2300 per 3-credit hour course is at the higher end of similar postsecondary institutions. She claims IEA union dues are excessive, is insolvent financially and restricts faculty prerogatives to discuss matters with unit heads such as chairs and deans. There is clearly no love lost between the university and the union. That is hardly historically unique as anyone who has taken a United States History class knows. {See image above!} I only have a PDF of President Wiseman’s letter and have tried unsuccessfully to download. If someone sends me one in word, I will post it of course in the interest of balance.

Perhaps a union that is not affiliated is “closer” to the university. Yet adjuncts by definition are more distant; they are not considered faculty, have no voting rights, do not chair departments, cannot serve on university-faculty committees, are paid by course and cannot even be called “professor.” That I hope would be allowed and negotiated if there is an adjunct contract. The right to be called “professor” by their students. Many have Ph.D.s and are some of the top instructors in the university. Some are absolutely exceptional teachers. Their devotion to the university is probably less than full-time faculty because the university’s devotion to them is less. Hence, attempting to join a union with an external affiliation is hardly shocking. The full-time faculty union is the Faculty Affairs Committee: yet it preceded its designation as the union. The adjuncts as far as I know have no functioning committee that represents their interests in the area of wages, benefits and work conditions.

Since this is a blog, I support the right of the adjuncts to organise and affiliate with the IEA. I think it is consistent with Catholic Social Teaching and my ethical code with regard to the rights of labour. I was on the organising Faculty Affairs Committee when it received NLRB approval to conduct an election on campus. I believe the union has strengthened the university and contributed to its academic reputation. There has never been a work stoppage or a lockout and generally speaking the union and administration have functioned in a very capable manner.

The IEA response:

June 23, 2011

Dear Colleague,

On June 24th, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will be mailing you a ballot along with voting instructions for the union representation election. The ballot must be mailed back to the NLRB and received by July 12th. Voting instructions will be included with the mailed ballot. Labor Board officials will be the only individuals to handle the ballot.

Since SXU has appealed the Regional Labor Board’s decision that mandated this election, the ballots are likely to be impounded until the appeal has been decided by the NLRB in Washington DC. We are confident that the NLRB will rule in our favor. If we prevail, the ballots will be co-mingled prior to counting to ensure that no one knows (including Labor Board officials) how you voted.

President Wiseman’s Letter

The President sent us a highly personal, five page letter attacking our efforts to organize an adjunct faculty union. Rather than a detailed response, we will raise a few pertinent points that we believe are important…

Why did SXU agree to an NLRB adjunct election last year but is trying to suppress an election this year?

Why has SXU accepted an NLRB-recognized union for the full-time faculty but claims that an adjunct union will somehow infringe on its religious mission?

Why was the last adjunct salary increase in the fall of 2006 even though tuition has increased 30% since?

How can SXU object to federal NLRB jurisdiction as “a burden or intrusion on our free exercise of religion” when it accepts millions of dollars in government financial support? For example, from 2005- 2009, SXU received about $6.9 million in direct government financial support. 2010 figures are not available; see enclosed data taken from the SXU website.

Can SXU explain specifically how an adjunct union would be “a burden or intrusion” on SXU’s “free exercise of religion?”

Why did the President complain that “none of our adjunct faculty has spoken with me about any workplace concerns?” Our organizing campaign has not been secretive. Our names have been listed on literature that we published. Our efforts started in 2008. This fall, a member of our organizing committee addressed a meeting of faculty members expressing our concerns. The President was present at the meeting.

The President’s letter contains some grossly misleading statements. For example:

IEA does not fine or sue its members.

IEA will not stop you from speaking to your department chair, dean or anyone else. Freedom of speech is a protected right under the U.S. Bill of Rights.

IEA is not “$12 million under water” as the President stated. A comparison of assets to liabilities does not reflect the economic health of an organization. Under Federal Accounting Standards Board’s rules, future liabilities such as pensions for employees who are years away from retirement and accumulated sick leave days that are not likely to be used except in a case of catastrophic illness must be reported as a current liability. IEA is required to maintain a balanced budget under its bylaws. Despite the economic downturn, IEA has not laid off a single employee.

We could go on but we made our point. We urge you to vote YES so that we have a real collective voice in the future at SXU just like the full-time faculty.

I edited two items:

Names removed of adjunct faculty contacts.

SXU Financial data although in the public domain deleted for formatting purposes.

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