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NIU OKs collective bargaining agreement, ends 2-year-plus impasse with AFSCME Local 1890

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Dennis Barsema, vice chairman of the Northern Illinois University Board of Trustees, applauds Thursday after the board approved a collective bargaining agreement with AFSCME Local 1890.[]

DeKALB –A union of about 600 Northern Illinois University clerical and administrative professionals has its first collective bargaining agreement after more than two years of negotiations.

Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1890 voted to ratify the agreement May 1 while the NIU Board of Trustees gave final approval during a special meeting Thursday. Local 1890 has been in negotiations since February 2016 with the university on its first contract.

Barbara Andree, office manager with the College of Education, said this has been a long, winding and sometimes bumpy process.

“The bargaining unit owes a huge thank-you to the unit’s negotiators and Sara Dorner, the AFSCME representative of Council 31,” Andree said. “We hope going forward that all union locals on campus will be given the respect and consideration they deserve and earn every day at NIU.”

One sticking point for the union was a 3 percent wage increase that had been proposed by acting President Lisa Freeman and approved by the board in October. Although eligible nonunionized employees were able to take advantage of the increase, unionized employees still in contract negotiations were advised that the increase would have to be negotiated into a collective bargaining agreement.

Dorner had said the university had offered a deal to implement the wage increase on the same basis as the one for nonunion employees, so long as the unions forgo all rights to negotiate retroactive and future pay for 2018.

However, with the agreement ratified, all eligible hourly and salary union employees will receive the
3 percent wage increase retroactive to November, according to the terms of the contract.

For fiscal 2020 and fiscal 2021, hourly and salary bargaining unit employees also will receive the greater of a 3 percent wage increase or the wage increase passed campuswide by the board for all university employees in accordance with implementation guidelines.

“It’s a sigh of relief, and now, the real work begins, because now we’re working on building our union and enforcing our contract so we’re looking forward to a cooperative relationship with the employer,” Dorner said. “Today we’ll celebrate, but tomorrow we get back to work.”

James Lawson, admissions and records representative with the Admission Systems and Processing Department, questioned why the contract does nothing to change the base hourly rates of any of the positions covered in the bargaining unit. This was one of the reasons he requested to postpone the vote for further analysis.

“Anyone unlucky enough to start tomorrow will make $43.83 less a month than they would have without a union,” Lawson said. “Anyone unlucky enough to start July 2, 2019, will make at least, depending on whether dues go up, $43.83 per week less than they would have without a union and will be guaranteed only one 3 percent raise during the duration of the contract.”

Lawson said that it is unclear what the long-term effects of the contract could be and whether the university can continue to get by with high turnover and poorly paid positions.

Another setback was a complaint filed by Local 1890 against NIU that went all the way to the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board.

When the university announced in May 2016 that parking fees would increase, the union argued to keep the fees at the status quo until a contract agreement was reached. Dorner then told NIU officials that parking fees could be negotiated once the fees were restored to their original cost and employees who already bought the permits were reimbursed.

When the fees were not changed, the union filed an unlawful labor practice charge against NIU for increasing the cost by $19. The labor relations board ultimately ruled that the university had violated state statutes by increasing parking fees for employees before that matter had been negotiated to an agreement with the union.

After reviewing the situation, the board ordered NIU to rescind the parking fee changes for union members and pay back the increased parking amount plus 7 percent interest.