Non-tenure-track University of Chicago faculty could strike this week

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Non-tenure-track faculty at the University of Chicago voted in 2015 to unionize. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

After two years of negotiations, some 200 or so University of Chicago faculty members not on track for tenure could strike if a contract deal isn’t reached by Thursday, making it the institution’s first faculty walkout in recent memory.

“We are close, and I really hope we will have a contract by the end of [Thursday],” said Darcy Lear, a part-time lecturer at the university and part of the bargaining committee.

Last week, the faculty members voted to authorize a strike, Lear said. The faculty — split about equally between full- and part-time employees — unionized in December 2015, affiliating with the Service Employees International Union Local 73 to form SEIU-Faculty Forward. Their goal: benefits and pay closer to the much larger group of tenure-track faculty, Lear said.

To date, the major sticking points have been pay, lack of health care benefits and faculty workload, she said.

Darcy said she is currently paid about $5,000 gross per course.

“That’s with no benefits and no job security. I have to reapply every year,” she said.

Jeremy Manier, a university spokesman, said administrators are optimistic about reaching agreement.

“The University values and supports the important work that non-tenure track lecturers do every day at the University, and we have been encouraged by the substantial progress so far in negotiations on their first union contract,” Manier said.

“The University’s bargaining team, which includes faculty members, has proposed many improvements, including an increase of 43 percent in the minimum salary for full-time lecturers, a decrease in class sizes for language courses, and improved benefits for medical care and parental leave. We are very optimistic that an agreement can be reached soon on any remaining subjects.”

Negotiations were planned for Wednesday and Thursday, Lear said.

Students are on spring break until March 26. Should faculty strike and should it be lengthy, faculty have made plans to teach students online and off campus, Lear said.

“Students have been very supportive,” she said.

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