The Carbondale Observer

News and commentary about Carbondale, Illinois and SIUC

Furloughs at SIUC: The Flat Earthers Revolt

with 4 comments

The Southern Illinoisan reported last week that Chancellor Rita Cheng announced the dates of the upcoming furloughs in an email to all staff. Several unions on campus have accepted the inevitable and agreed to the furlough days. Unfortunately for SIUC and the employees they represent, some unions have chosen to bury their heads in the sand and deny that furloughs are necessary.

From Cheng’s email:

As of today’s date, we have not yet been able to reach agreement with some bargaining units.  For these units, including the Faculty Association, the Non-Tenure Track Faculty Association, the Association of Civil Service Employees, Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council, and AFSCME Local # 878, we will continue to consider all options to reach our savings goals.  Those options include layoffs of bargaining unit employees. While layoffs are not our first choice, they may become necessary to achieve a balanced University budget.  We intend to continue bargaining in good faith with these units in order to reach some type of mutually acceptable resolution.

Suggestions on ways in which we can avoid layoffs for these units should be directed to the applicable union representatives so that employees’ ideas or opinions are expressed through the appropriate labor organization. As always, we encourage all represented employees to work with their bargaining unit and labor union leadership, as we work with those organizations to resolve these issues.

So these five unions (the Foolish Five) are unwilling to recognize the facts of the situation at SIUC, and now the employees they represent are vulnerable to layoffs. Notice the second paragraph, where Cheng urges employees whose unions have not agreed to furloughs to communicate with their union leaders. Hopefully bargaining union employees are reining in their foolish and irresponsible union leadership.

My understanding is that the Foolish Five refused to accept furloughs a few days before Cheng sent the announcement email on November 3. The Faculty Association has a “white paper” (pdf) dated November 1 on their website. This is a truly stunning document. Here is the final sentence:

Rather than pursuing the destructive short-term expedient of administrative closures, then, we believe that SIUC ought to strive to redirect its priorities and its spending to what matters most: to our research, to our creative work, to our service on behalf of our state and our region, and to the education of our students.

Okay, great. Research and creative work should be the priorities at SIUC. In normal times, I’d agree. These aren’t normal times. Enrollment has declined by 11% since fall of 2000. Meanwhile, employment has grown by 11%. Faculty employment has grown by 8% during this period. I have posted about this before. SIUC has a $2.5 million budget gap. I don’t see how that gap can be filled without touching labor cost.

I don’t think the authors of the Faculty Association statement understand the fiscal situation at SIUC. On page 2, in a section called “Administrative closures are not a fiscal necessity,” the authors repeatedly refer to delays in state payments. The $2.5 million budget hole isn’t the temporary result of late payments from the state. SIUC doesn’t have the money to cover its costs for the year, and the state isn’t going to issue a check to fill the gap. The only option is to reduce costs. Either the authors don’t understand that, or they are intentionally trying to mislead.

The Foolish Five are planning to hold a joint meeting today, November, 9 2010 at 4:45 pm in the student center auditorium. The announcement for the meeting asked “Do you really deserve a pay-cut?” (emphasis in original). This isn’t a question of what people deserve. It is a question of what’s necessary during a budget crisis. I encourage those employees represented by the Foolish Five to attend the meeting and demand responsible behavior from their union leadership.

The Foolish Five are: Association of Civil Service Employees (ACsE), SIUC Faculty Association (FA), SIUC Non-Tenure Track Faculty Association (NTTFA), SIUC Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), and AFSCME Local 878.

I’m planning to write more about this in the future.

Comments are welcome.

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4 Responses

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  1. […] a comment » Just a short post today. I was critical of five SIUC unions in a post earlier this week. In the interest of fairness, I should point out that the unions do make one good […]

  2. […] week I was critical of the Faculty Association’s white paper because the authors repeatedly referred to late […]

  3. […] I was critical of five SIUC unions that have refused to cooperate with furloughs. I dubbed them the Foolish Five. As more information becomes available, my views are starting to […]

  4. Pardon the late comment: I’ve only just now stumbled across your blog. The White Paper isn’t as confused or misleading as you suggest, I think. The “cash flow” versus “structural deficit” business is confusing, but furloughs are presumably a short-term measure (unless they are disguised permanent pay cuts), so measures taken to meet the cash flow crunch last year are relevant. The White Paper notes that cash reserves have in fact been used for short term budgetary problems; hence they could be used to meet the purported $2.6 million dollar hole for this year, assuming that structural changes could be made so as to refund the cash reserves next year (it seems likely that reserves of roughly $40 million could handle a short-term loan). SIUC’s decision not to pursue borrowing also implies that the school has enough money in reserve to tide it over for the short run. While the borrowing bill, as the White Paper indicates, was limited to temporary shortfalls caused by late state payments, if it relieved pressure on the cash reserves, they would be all the more available for other short term problems. One other borrowing strategy would be to borrow from employees by going through with the furloughs, but paying back employees in the future–an idea that has been floated by at least one union (the Civil Service union) but rejected by the administration.

    The basic point is that SIUC has options, and that the Chancellor has been painfully slow to admit as much. If there is indeed a structural deficit, long term measures are the solution, and may well involve, as you suggest, reductions in staffing levels.

    Nemo

    November 28, 2010 at 7:35 pm


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