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Administration playing hardball with strikers and students
NEIU faculty walk out

By Theresa Carlson | December 3, 2004 | Page 11

CHICAGO--Faculty at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) went on strike November 19 for a contract with decent raises and good working conditions. After nine months of negotiations that resulted in the administration offering less than a 2 percent raise, 500 faculty and staff walked off the job and onto the picket line.

The administration wants a minimum of 45 students in every class and a 25 percent increase in the teaching load--for a faculty that already works an average of 59.5 hours per week! The pay offer would do little to increase salaries beyond the rate of inflation, even though NEIU faculty are already the lowest paid of all state universities in Illinois.

Students for Faculty Rights, a committee that has been organizing student solidarity all semester, called a press conference and rally that turned out several dozen students. This show of solidarity was important because union officials had told students not to walk the picket line on the first day of the strike.

After the rally, student activists went onto campus to talk to other students about why they shouldn't cross the picket line. Campus security approached and said that they couldn't hand out fliers in the school and if they did not stop they would be arrested--a threat echoed by the dean of students.

Other campus officials later admitted that the threat was groundless--but it's a reflection of the hardline tactics of University President Salme Steinberg, who gets a salary of $210,000 and another $90,000 in perks, including a housing allowance and two cars. Steinberg has also hired a high-priced, union-busting labor lawyer to try to destroy the union.

Meanwhile, the administration is trying to divide students against the faculty. The most blatant of these attacks is that the administration has laid off all work-study students who cannot prove that at least six hours of their classes are meeting. At a campus where more than 90 percent of faculty are on strike, this means that almost all work-study students are now unemployed. This hits the poorest students on campus the hardest.

Students are also being threatened with F's if they do not go to classes that are being held.

In an illegal attempt to intimidate faculty, the university administration contacted at least four non-citizen faculty members and demanded that they report to work or be subject to deportation proceedings! This sort of racist attack is bad enough at corporations, but at an institution of higher learning that prides itself for being the "most diverse university in the Midwest," it is unconscionable.

Heading into the second week of the strike, strikers plan to keep up the pressure on the university administration. The administration appears determined to break the union with these divisive attacks. But with solidarity, the faculty can hold the line and win.

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