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Union supporters march during WIU contract negotiations

MACOMB, Illinois -- A march of support rallied around Western Illinois University union members as they negotiate the terms of their contract with the administration.

A negotiation session started at 2 p.m. Monday, April 23 in Macomb. That's where faculty, instructors, counselors, advisers, students, and community supporters walked across campus in the "March to Mediation."

Simultaneously, union members and supporters rallied at the Quad Cities campus. Faculty and students gathered to watch the Macomb March on Facebook live.  They also shared testimonials on video.

In preparation for the march, supporters gathered Sunday evening to make signs pushing for fair contracts. UPI Local 4100 WIU Chapter posted photos of the sign-making process on Facebook.

WIU Professor Jim La Prad described the march as an act of solidarity, saying it "demonstrates our unity as we stand for a mutually beneficial future" for WIU employees, students, members, and the community.

Contract negotiations have been ongoing since December of 2016.  According to Professor La Prad, during the summer of 2017, a contract extension was signed, but no changes were made.

He said union members have been asked to take a permanent salary cut that's based on an old contract.  In their negotiations they are looking for an equitable pay structure and have tossed around the idea of enacting a merit-based system.  The U.S. Department of Labor describes merit pay as raises based on performance.

Professor La Prad said he didn't expect an agreement out of Monday's negotiation, which is the last one scheduled for the year.  But he said more could be scheduled.

As negotiations have been underway, the union has been empowered with authorization to strike; this vote took place Wednesday, April 18.  This doesn't necessarily mean there would be a strike, but it means the union could file an intent to strike at any time.

After strike authorization was given Union President William Thompson issued the following statement:

“We stand for a mutually beneficial, future: a better future for our students, for our members, for WIU’s employees, and for our community. Our goal with contract negotiations is to move Western Illinois University forward while allowing the institution to retain and attract quality faculty and academic support professionals. Unfortunately, management is not yet on board with this plan, so we decided to have this vote to allow the bargaining team to call a strike if management continues not to listen to our united voice. In the spring of 2016, UPI worked with management and deferred a previously negotiated 3% salary increases leading to a $3.2 million give back to Western from our members. We additionally gave up a 1% raise (worth $470,000 a year). We aren’t asking for the world, but the University can afford to give us a reasonable contract that will allow us to keep and retain the high quality faculty and staff that will provide a better future for all of us and make Western Illinois University, the Right Choice for our students.”