University of Chicago Non-Tenure Track Faculty are Forming a Union: Questions and Answers 

Why are UC faculty forming a union? 

Because we want to improve our working conditions and make sure teaching and scholarship are a priority at the University of Chicago. With our union, we will have a stronger, more unified voice for our profession. More than 40 percent of University of Chicago faculty are off the tenure track. While we love teaching at UC, there’s room for greater access to professional development funds that help us keep up with advances in the field. We believe strongly that creating more equitable and predictable employment conditions for non-tenure track faculty will enhance the quality of our students’ educational experiences. Our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions.

Who will be in charge of our union? 

We will make all of the decisions for our own union. We will have officers and approval of contracts will be decided by a majority vote, but all members can help shape our union through bargaining surveys, serving on committees, and electing officers. All of the proposals for our contract will come from us. And during the process of achieving a contract with the school, we will decide when the proposed contract is good enough to be ratified by a majority vote.

How does a union work? 

Having a union empowers people to make positive changes where they work. Having a union does not guarantee any particular improvement or benefit, but a union is the tool working people, like college and university faculty, use to make improvements where they work. Through the power of collective bargaining, instructors across the country have won a voice at the table and have won the right to negotiate with their college and university administrations.

I am full-time but not tenure-track, how does this apply to me? 

Whether you are full or part-time, we all need a strong voice to do our jobs better. Together, part-time and full-time contract faculty comprise a large percentage of the teaching staff at UC and share many of the same concerns, for example, around job security. With a union, for example, all contingent faculty could potentially bargain for continuous appointments and dismissal only for “just cause.” Working alongside each other on common goals would benefit everyone.

What is Faculty Forward? SEIU? 

As non-tenure track faculty, we have decided that forming a union with SEIU Faculty Forward is the best way for contingent faculty here at UC to receive the respect, recognition and security we deserve.

SEIU is the Service Employees International Union. SEIU represents 75,000 members in public and private higher education in the United States—37,000 are college and university faculty. Overall, SEIU is home to 2 million members in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, including tens of thousands of Illinoisans.

What have others achieved by forming a union? 

Across the country, faculty have negotiated contracts that have won: pay increases, the establishment or expansion of professional development funds, “just cause” clauses protecting members from arbitrary discipline or discharge, and a defined rate of compensation in the event of course cancellation, among other improvements. Because this is our union, what we achieve in bargaining will reflect our priorities and issues specific to the University of Chicago. Most importantly, forming a union will allow us to have a voice in determining our working conditions.

How will the administration respond? 

Most employers would very much like to continue making all of the decisions without giving those who work for them a real voice. It’s typical for a university administration to launch a campaign that tries to convince us to change our minds about forming a union. Employers’ main argument against a union usually comes down to this: “You will be better off if you let us stay in charge of making all of the decisions.” However, most folks realize that standing together to build a union is the best choice for all of us. We invite the UC administration to take a neutral stance on the union and let us make this important decision for ourselves.

Whatever the administration’s response, our union activity is protected by the law and the strength of our numbers. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) Section 8(a) prohibits an employer from threatening us for voting “yes,” interrogating us about union activity, promising any benefit for voting “no” or surveilling any union activity (meetings, events, etc.).

How much will dues be? 

Forming a union allows us to pool our resources and make a bigger difference on campus. No one pays dues until we have: 1) formed our union; 2) negotiated our first contract, and 3) voted as a group to approve our contract. In other words, we will not pay any money into the union before we know exactly what gains we’ve achieved through collective bargaining. Dues, are 2 percent or $2 for every $100 you earn.

How long will this take? 

The voting usually happens four to six weeks after the cards are filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for an election, but the process may take longer. Once the ballots are counted, if there are more “yes” votes than “no” votes, we will then have a seat at the table with UC to improve our pay, benefits and working conditions by negotiating a union contract.

What can I do to help?

The first step to build the union is to sign a union authorization card.  As soon as possible, we will file cards with the NLRB. Then, we’ll have our election to form our union. Once we win that election, we will have a union and we’ll begin bargaining for the improvements we want to see at the University of Chicago.