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ISU faculty members rally to support unionization

John Miller stands in the center of a crowd on Illinois State University's quad on Tuesday, giving members a pep rally on unionization through a bull horn.
Lyndsay Jones
Lyndsay Jones
John Miller, with bullhorn, is the president of the University Professionals of Illinois organization that represents more than 3,200 faculty members and other professionals at various universities in the state. If faculty members at ISU succesfully organize, they will be affiliated with that preexisting union.

Dozens of people gathered on Illinois State University's quad on the second day of classes for a rally supporting the unionization efforts of tenured and tenure-track faculty members.

Speakers at Tuesday's signature-gathering rally said efforts to unionize ISU faculty have been ongoing for more than two years.

"One of the key issues — it's come up over and over again over a number of years — is that faculty need the resources that are required for us to do our jobs," said Keith Pluymers, an assistant professor in ISU's history department.

"If we're going to make sure that [this] public good is accessible to the students of this state, we need the resources to make sure we can do our jobs."

Much of the rally's messaging centered on students and how collective action could help ISU faculty more effectively advocate for both their need and those of their students; assistant professor of teaching and learning Xiaoying Zhao noted explicitly that money is an issue, as well.

"We demand respect and dignity. We deserve fair wages and raises to demonstrate our value as professionals and our contributions to the students and the university," Zhao told the crowd.

In a statement to WGLT, university spokesperson Eric Jome said ISU "respects the legal right of university tenured and tenure-line faculty members to explore union representation under the processes set forth in the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act."

Around 640 ISU employees are either tenured faculty or on their way to being tenured. To successfully form a union, a majority — half of those employees, plus one, at a minimum — must sign an authorization card signaling their support.

"This rally feels like a start [but] it's been part of a much longer process — a grassroots process that has been about building up a consensus and seeing what's important," Pluymers said. "What's going to come out of this today, we hope, is the formation of a union that's going to make this institution much stronger."

If the organizational effort is successful, a chapter of the University Professionals of Illinois Local 4100 [UPI] would be established on behalf of unionized ISU faculty.

UPI is affiliated with AFL-CIO and the Illinois Federation of Teachers, a labor union with more than 100,000 members, ranging from paraprofessionals and prekindergarten teachers to higher education faculty and staff members.

According to UPI's website, its membership includes more than 3,200 other faculty and professionals at higher education institutions across the state.

"This is the union that has consistently fought for public funding for our institutions," UPI president John Miller said Tuesday. "Everywhere a student is, the institution must be investing. The priorities must be them: Not buildings, not administration."

Among the other universities with UPI chapters are Eastern Illinois University; Chicago State University; Northern, Northeastern and Western Illinois universities and the University of Illinois-Springfield.

Lyndsay Jones is a reporter at WGLT. She joined the station in 2021. You can reach her at lljone3@ilstu.edu.