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University of Chicago Professors Win Fight to Unionize

By Sam Cholke | December 9, 2015 12:33pm
 A group of 169 professors at the University of Chicago won a vote to unionize Wednesday.
A group of 169 professors at the University of Chicago won a vote to unionize Wednesday.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

HYDE PARK — A group of 169 non-tenure-track professors at the University of Chicago have successfully unionized, according to the National Labor Relations Board.

The Service Employees International Union on Oct. 29 started the process to unionize 400 non-tenure-track faculty teaching courses at the University of Chicago. On Wednesday the group won a partial victory establishing a new bargaining unit of 169 teachers on campus.

During a two-week election, teachers voted 92-22 in favor of forming the union, according to Jessica Kahanek, a spokeswoman for the NLRB.

She said seven voters were challenged as ineligible to participate and were not counted, but it did not affect the outcome of the election.

“Winning our union election shows that we’re all in this together; it is in everyone’s interest to reverse the trends that have marginalized our profession,” Darcy Lear, a lecturer at the university, said in an emailed statement. “I'm glad that our success today may help empower other part-time and full-time faculty to change the status quo for their families and students.”

SEIU Local 73 will now be able to negotiate wages, benefits and working conditions with the university, unless the university files a formal objection within the next week, according to NLRB policies provided by Kahanek.

Jeremy Manier, a spokesman for the univeristy, said the university will enter into negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement.

University Provost Eric Isaacs reached out to the affected teachers shortly after the vote totals were announced.

“I greatly value the contributions of every member of our community to our shared mission of intellectual engagement, teaching, and research, and I thank you for your dedication to our students and to the University of Chicago community,” Isaacs said in a letter.

The university had not openly opposed the efforts to unionize, but sent letters to faculty about the possible downsides to forming a union.

“The presence of a union would remove much of the flexibility that currently exists to work with individual academic appointees and might restrict the conversations that presently inform our work,” Isaacs said in a Nov. 17 letter to faculty. “It also would bring instructors with diverse professional goals and areas of expertise into a single bargaining unit and unified negotiation process.”

The union will include some non-tenure-track faculty in public policy, biology and several foreign language programs.

The drive to unionize originally included collegiate assistant professors, instructors in the financial math and computer science master's degree programs, and almost all senior lecturers. These faculty members were removed from the list during negotiations between SEIU and the university after the petition to unionize was filed, according to the university.

The petition never included any faculty at the Booth School of Business, the Law School, the Pritzker School of Medicine and the Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies.

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