Talks go on in hopes of averting strike by SIU faculty

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Faculty and administrators at Southern Illinois University here said Monday they hold out hope that negotiators will make progress on a new contract and avert a threatened strike Feb. 3.

Union members voted last week to walk off the job next Monday if progress isn't made on solving a yearlong impasse over salary, benefits and working conditions at the 22,000-student campus.

About 400 of the 688 tenured and tenure-track faculty on the Carbondale campus are members of the union.

Faculty at the Edwardsville campus are not represented by a union and are unaffected by the threatened strike, as are instructors at SIU's medical and law schools.

It's not clear how many Carbondale professors would honor a walkout. Keith Snavely, who teaches political science, said he would likely not honor a strike despite his union membership.

"I think both sides are to blame" for the impasse, Snavely said as he ate lunch Monday in a student cafeteria.

At the center of the complex dispute is the union's contention that SIUC professors are paid less than their counterparts at similar, four-year research universities nationwide.

Carbondale professors earn an average $60,200 annually. Public university professors in Illinois average $66,000 per year.

University officials will not describe in detail their latest salary and benefits offer, but it remains below the union's latest demand of a 10.5 percent pay hike over two years, said professor James Kelly, a union spokesman.

Union leaders say progress must be made on six key issues to avert a strike, including their demand that the university hire more faculty to lower the student-teacher ratio at the school.

State budget cuts

School officials claim they are limited in what they can do because of more than $10 million in state budget cuts this year.

An unusually large, 18 percent tuition increase last fall raised about $8 million in additional funds for the school, but the university's chancellor, Walter Wendler, promised that money would go toward renovations, student scholarships and other improvements, rather than faculty salaries.

As negotiators meet each day to try to reach an agreement, each side also is making plans for a possible walkout.

In the event of a strike, administrators who hold advanced degrees in fields left without instructors will be asked to replace striking professors, said university spokeswoman Susan Davis. As many as 1,200 classes are taught on the Carbondale campus each weekday.

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