Members of the St. Xavier University faculty union, FAC, were today surrounded by over 100 Chicagoland union leaders, rank and file members, and local faith leaders, together demanding that the city’s oldest Catholic university live up to its founding values.
On May 28, 2020 Saint Xavier University President Laurie Joyner and Board of Trustees Chair Trish Morris announced in an email to the St. Xavier University community that the University will no longer recognize the full-time faculty union (FAC) as a collective bargaining unit.
FAC member, Angelo Bonadonna stated, “The faculty of Saint Xavier University face disenfranchisement, union-busting, and the complete degradation of our mission and values. We are fighting for the soul of Saint Xavier University as a Sisters of Mercy institution.”
The union has existed for 40 years at the Catholic university, which is located in a heavily Catholic community. Founded by the Sisters of Mercy, which also founded elementary and high schools in the area, the University has taught Catholic Social Teaching, which highlights the rights of workers to organize to form unions and improve conditions.
Faculty were shocked by the announcement which came with no prior warning. The announcement was also unexpected as the University will receive more than $4 million in CARES Act funds and has unprecedented enrollments during the summer term.
The union’s elected leaders responded to the announcement, stating that the actions taken by the University are “unethical and counter to Catholic social teaching and the values of the Sisters of Mercy institution.”
Currently there are 140 members of FAC, the union that has represented the full-time faculty at Saint Xavier University since 1979 when it was certified by the NLRB. The union and Administration have been negotiating for two years following termination of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) on May 17, 2019 with little success. Faculty decry the university’s hiring of a union busting firm to lead negotiations.
For more than 40 years, FAC has been recognized as the bargaining unit of the faculty of Saint Xavier University. For 39 of those years, FAC has reached agreement with the administration on a contract. Every single time that the Saint Xavier University administration revealed untenable financial strain, FAC worked with the administration to ensure the success of the institution, including taking dramatic cuts in pay and benefits. FAC has been driven by safety, dignity, faculty engagement and ensuring conditions that allow faculty to best serve students.
The FAC union leadership team also reminded the university of the critical role of their union in providing quality education: “The faculty union helps ensure quality education. Caps on class sizes for example, are not just about sanity for a professor but tied to data that shows student learning declines significantly when class sizes increase beyond the ideal number. The faculty union helps ensure that faculty are free to pursue truth by protecting their intellectual property and academic freedom. The faculty union helps create a strong learning environment because our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions.”
Teachers’ unions’ role in quality education is echoed by Robert Bruno, Professor of Labor and Employment Relations, Director of the Labor Education Program, School of Labor and Employment Relations, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. “Teacher unions have historically been the strongest advocates for high quality and equitable educational institutions. Unionization provides a critically important independent voice for teachers, students and educational quality that cannot be replicated by other bodies.”
“Catholic social teaching supports the concept of unions in the workplace,” said Bob Reiter, President of the Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL). “To reject that notion undermines the very values I hold dear as a Catholic. To think that a Catholic university would abandon its collective bargaining obligation is both disheartening and outrageous. The CFL and our 300 unions representing 500,000 union members in Chicago and Cook County stands in solidarity with the St. Xavier University faculty union, and I, as a Catholic union activist, stand with all Catholic working people in support of the right to collectively bargain in the workplace.”
A local electrician’s union had several members attend the rally, and leadership spoke out against the university’s actions. The union also announced terminating an endowment/scholarship fund to show support from the faculty. IBEW Local 134’s Business Manager and Financial Secretary Don Finn, said his union’s action “should send a message to the community and individuals considering coming to this institution that St. Xavier University does not value its employees and is able to simply toss away a 40 year relationship with little to no regard of the message it sends or the lives it affects.” See a full statement from IBEW Local 134 regarding its scholarship fund below.
Local elected leaders sent a joint letter to the St. Xavier President asking the institution to change course. Signed by State Senator Bill Cunningham, State RepresentativeFran Hurley, State Representative Kelly Burke, and Alderman Matt O’Shea, the letter states “As the elected representatives of the Saint Xavier community in the Illinois General Assembly and Chicago City Council, we are writing to urge SXU to reconsider its decision to no longer recognize the Faculty Affairs Committee as a collective bargaining unit. We firmly believe in the right of workers to organize and collectively bargain with management over wages and working conditions. This is a core value shared by many of our constituents…”
SXU alumni have also voiced their support for the faculty. Annie Kelly, Class of 2015 shared. “The mission of Mercy education is not being fulfilled …. Mercy calls for fair and equitable treatment of all…. Poor decisions arrived at through prayer are still poor decisions. [The SXU administration should… not use the guise of prayerfulness to cloak injustice.”
Mark Piper, Class of 2010 agreed that the university’s actions went against the values he learned as a student, “As an alum of Saint Xavier University, a Mercy Associate, a practicing Catholic, I stand with the faculty union. The decision not to recognize the union violates Catholic Social Teaching because it hinders the quality of education, collegiality, and the dignity of work by squelching the voice and participation of the faculty through their duly elected bargaining unit.”
Genevieve Buthod, Class of 2014 recognized the faculty as being at the core of her SXU education, stating, “As a student at Saint Xavier, I was supported all four years by faculty who cared about my education and my university. Now, as an alumna, it’s my turn to support those same faculty and save the university we all love.”
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