The faculty union at the University of Illinois at Chicago announced this week that, after a year and a half of fruitless bargaining with the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, it would take a strike vote.

At issue, a union leader said, is that tenure and non-tenured full-time faculty members were willing to accept furloughs and salary freezes while money was tight. Now the budget is doing better and they’d like to see some of its fruits.

In particular, they argue, many professors at the low end of the pay scale barely make a living wage, while some administrators at the public university get lavish paychecks.

John A. Shuler, a leader with the University of Illinois Chicago United Faculty and a bibliographer at the university library, said they’d like to see the average wage increase for the lower paid union members. Full-time non-tenured faculty earn on average $30,000 a year, and the union is pushing for a $45,000 average.

The question of how much professors—particularly part-time adjuncts—earn has become a labor issue in recent months. Though adjunct professors make up more than half of all college instructors, they are often poorly paid and rarely receive benefits. The case of a long-time, part-time professor at a Pittsburgh university who died destitute after 25 years of working as an adjunct was seen as a wake-up call on the issue. 

Though the UICUF bargaining unit does not include part-time faculty, Shuler said it does include some full-time adjunct faculty members.

So how big is the difference in pay between those at the top, and at the bottom, of the academic food chain? Paula Allen-Meares, the chancellor for the UIC campus, has a base salary of $422,458. That’s $392,000 more a year than the average untenured, full-time professor at UIC, who earns $30,000 a year.

Shuler stressed that the UIC faculty union isn’t only looking for monetary gains in the contract. They are also looking for a seat at the table when the administration is deciding how resources are distributed, and hiring of more faculty positions and fewer administrative jobs.

The University of Illinois at Chicago administration did not respond to requests for comment.

The strike vote ends Thursday. Shuler said he expects the vote will be positive — in favor of a strike.

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Yana Kunichoff

is a blogger/reporter at The Chicago Reporter.