From Beverly Stewart, Region 67 Grassroots Political Activist

After working 17 years on the Higher Education Council for the Illinois Education Association (IEA), the state of higher education has improved and has remained the same, especially for contingent faculty. Most full-time community college units have 100 percent membership and are fairly self-contained.

The improvements we made within the structure of our state and national unions include 

  • Winning four internal organizing grants from the National Education Association (NEA) to pay members to sign up former agency fee payers. Agency-fee or fair share members pay dues even if they never signed membership cards because in Illinois locals that negotiated for a closed shop, meaning membership was a condition of hire, had dues taken out automatically. After the Supreme Court in the Janus decision ruled that public sector employee could not negotiate closed shops, our contingent locals lost a lot of members. Over two summers, the College of DuPage Adjuncts Association has signed more than 100 members; since the beginning of the semester, Chicago City Colleges Contingent Labor Organizing Committee has signed more than 80, and Harper College Adjunct Faculty Association is just beginning. Illinois State University Faculty Association (ISUFA) has signed more than a dozen, but has identified members who are becoming active in the local by joining the rep system and the negotiations team.
  • Getting an organizer to work with higher education, for three years, who wrote the grants and now trains and works with the local member organizer initiatives.
  • Winning a higher educator of the year award by the NEA and IEA. The first in Illinois will be named at the Representative Assembly in March.
  • Winning quarter-time dues for all contingent faculty in Illinois. Before last year, nontenure track faculty at Illinois State University, paid full or half dues depending on their work loads, but they did not enjoy equivalent salaries or benefit full professors earned. 
  • Winning a permanent seat on the IEA’s executive committee. The executive committee includes 10 board members, who are elected each year by the board members, and it includes the executive officers. 
  • Establishing Region 67 in Chicago and Service area H in Edwardsville (near St Louis) , which include only higher ed locals. These two regions at least allows higher ed locals to interact with each other with the hope of developing collaborative projects.

We continue to fight for contingent faculty to automatically win unemployment benefits between semesters. 

Our greatest challenge in Illinois is funding. Since 2000, the state’s contribution to public higher education dropped 50 percent by 2015. For two years, the state budget included nothing or next to nothing for higher education. This year the state increased funding to just below 2015 levels and increased the student Monetary Awards Program (MAP) grants. 

As the IEA supports the fair tax initiative, which amends the state constitution’s flat income tax provision to be a progressive tax, we need to talk to our legislators now. As the current Grassroots Political Activist for Region 67, I will be asking some of you to join me in educating about the need for adequate funding for higher education.