A Choice at the Crossroads: Impacts on the Whole Community

Posted: November 9, 2011 in Commentary
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A Choice at the Crossroads: Impacts on the Whole Community

As bargaining between the faculty and administration continues, agreement on the remaining issues is as simple as the Chancellor and Board of Trustees choosing equal protection of all the unions over continuing to single the Faculty Association out in punitive ways that undermine the mission of the university, taxpayer interests, and the local economy.

To put these choices in perspective, let’s begin with the choice the administration made, more than a year ago now, to refuse interest-based bargaining. The Cornell University Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) School explains that "Interest-based bargaining frames negotiation as joint problem solving to resolve each party’s underlying issues, needs, and concerns. The process works by encouraging the parties to focus on interests, not positions, and to use communication and innovative thinking to identify superior solutions." A report issued jointly by the Cornell ILR school and the NEA demonstrates that these efforts to identify common ground early in a negotiation aren’t pie-in-the-sky fantasies for cushy times, but instead developed in the 1990’s, a period of time that saw "change in collective bargaining in education, including the introduction of voucher programs and charter schools, change in state collective bargaining laws, rising tuition and operational costs, and growing concern from communities that institutional actors in education were not representing their interests". [ See page 5 of this report. ]

Interest-based bargaining is good for local communities. Especially in rough times like these, it can

  • Enhance the image of public sector collective bargaining in the community as a process capable of representing and advancing the interests of all its stakeholders;
  • Provide a venue for creating more professional teaching conditions and respond to the need for reform;
  • Reduce the escalation of disputes and the associated costs. [ See page 5 of this report. ]
  • That last point, about reducing "the escalation of disputes and the associated costs" feels particularly relevant as we consider the last few days and the Board’s proposals. If the Board forces the right to furlough, to do so untransparently, and/or a back-to-work agreement that blocks restoration of wages withheld during the strike, it may succeed in punishing the faculty, but it will also be punishing the local economy. Chancellor Cheng may attempt to place all of the blame on striking workers for these local economic hits. But members of the community and local business owners should consider:

    1. That Chancellor Cheng and the Board of Trustees chose to refuse Interest-Based Bargaining from the beginning—a kind of bargaining already proven successful at SIU.

    2. That the Faculty Association waited more than a year without a contract to take this unprecedented action while the administration chose to bargain only intermittently.

    3. That the Chancellor and Board have already chosen to extend furlough protection and Fair Share to other unions; they could now choose to treat faculty with the same respect and end this strike now!

    And most importantly:
    4. That if they choose not to restore withheld wages they will be going against typical practice in labor disputes, and doing so with a punitive intention.

    If there is a hit to the local economy from the hundreds of thousands of dollars lost in the region, taxpayers and local business people need to think about those four choices made by Chancellor Cheng and the Board of Trustees.

    SIU is a state school. When the Faculty Association asks for transparency and accountability in making furlough decisions, to be sure, we have a personal stake in that decision; but so do our neighbors. Every taxpayer has a right to know that decisions are being made wisely and fairly, not in a way that will waste resources on costly litigation and put a drain on community prosperity. All of us depend upon a vibrant SIU and local economy, as the Chancellor herself recognized in a recent report. Lost strike wages and the threat of future furloughs will surely have an impact on the faculty’s ability to contribute to the local economy heading into the holiday season upon which so many local businesses depend and have already begun to worry about.

    The mission statement of SIU maintains that the university’s "programs of public service and its involvement in the civic and social development of the region are manifestations of a general commitment to enhance the quality of life through the exercise of academic skills and application of problem-solving techniques. SIUC seeks to help solve social, economic, educational, scientific, and technological problems, and thereby to improve the well-being of those whose lives come into contact with it." Members of the faculty association proudly contribute to that mission.

    The question remains, though: Will Chancellor Cheng and the Board reflect on their decision to forgo this aspect of our great university’s mission by refusing the opportunity to learn and exercise the "problem-solving techniques" that the training for Interest-Based Bargaining would have taught them?

    Will they single-out the Faculty Association in comparison to the other unions, to whom they did choose to offer last minute contracts with the furlough protections and fair-share agreements that are holding up settlement of this strike?

    Will they end this strike with a fair back-to-work agreement in keeping with common practice, or will they hold out for provisions that punish everyone in the community economically?

    Or will they recognize that this is an opportunity to be fair, to help SIU heal, and to draw upon rather than punish the outpouring of faculty energy and student support that have characterized this strike action?

    Ask them which way they will turn at this crossroad:

    Board of Trustees 618-536-3357
    Chancellor Cheng 618-453-2341
    President Poshard 618-536-3331

    You can also sign a petition at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/savetenureatsiucarbondale/

    And a note: thanks to all of those local businesses supporting our picketers and students on the strike lines! You’ve helped us stay warm, quenched our thirst, and fed us when we’ve been hungry. We share stories about your generosity and good will, and look forward to returning that support with purchasing decisions.

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    Comments
    1. Amy Darnell says:

      I love the fact that local businesses have been showing their support of you. If at possible, could you share the names of those businesses, so that I can give them my business the next time I’m in Carbondale. I would like to return their favors in kind.

      • Craig Gingrich-Philbrook says:

        Well, what I have heard is Kroger, Papa Johns, and Hucks, in particular. I’m sure there will be some effort to gather all the stories and make a thank you, please patronize list. UPS and FED EX have also both honored the picket line (for the most part).

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