SIU Carbondale to pay $1.7 million to employees for furlough day - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

SIU Carbondale to pay $1.7 million to employees for furlough days

SIU President Randy Dunn speaks on university decision to pay back some employees for forced furlough days taken in 2011-12. (Source: Giacomo Luca, KFVS) SIU President Randy Dunn speaks on university decision to pay back some employees for forced furlough days taken in 2011-12. (Source: Giacomo Luca, KFVS)

Southern Illinois University Carbondale will comply with an order by the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board to "make whole" employees in three collective bargaining groups who were required to take unpaid furlough days in the 2011-12 fiscal year.

The university had until Jan. 22 to appeal the board's Dec. 18, 2014 decision, which confirmed a July recommendation made by an administrative law judge.

The decision relates to the collective bargaining in 2010 and 2011, when university officials asked employees to take unpaid furlough days to help address fiscal challenges.

The labor board found that the university violated sections of the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act by "unilaterally implementing final offers where the parties had not reached impasse."

The board ordered the university to "make whole any employees in the bargaining units...for any losses incurred," including annual interest at 7 percent.

Members of the groups affected by the decision include approximately 1,400 current and former tenure-track faculty, non-tenure-track faculty and civil service employees.

SIU President Randy Dunn said he made the decision not to appeal the finding after consulting with the executive committee of the SIU Board of Trustees.

"A lengthy appeal could lead to significant additional costs," Dunn said. "There are obviously multiple sides and perspectives to any issue, but it makes sense for us to close the page on this difficult period and look forward to the future in partnership with all of our faculty and staff."

He said the university has a number of details to work through to identify current and past employees who are eligible for the payments.

The total costs for reimbursing employees in the three groups for the days, with interest, is likely to be more than $1.7 million, he said.

"We are prepared to address the financial impact as part of our overall budget planning," he added. "It is too early to say when employees can anticipate their reimbursements given the complexities of the details, but we will comply with all aspects of the labor board's order in good faith."

Dunn said the SIU Board of Trustees, during its March meeting, will consider whether and how to compensate employees who were not in the three bargaining groups for the days, as well.

"Because the Illinois labor board's decision covered only three specific bargaining units, the SIU board would need to take action regarding other employees who were subject to the furlough days," Dunn said.

Back in 2010

Just months into her role as chancellor at SIU, Rita Cheng had to consider the option of forcing university employees to take as many as six furlough days to balance the university's budget. First, the Board of Trustees had to approve a change in policy.

Rod Sievers, the SIU spokesman at the time, said not paying administrators, faculty and staff for as many as six days in the fiscal year would do a lot to fill the $2.6 million gap.

When faced with laying off a receptionist and two professors, SIU School of Journalism Director William Freivogel, opted to take a two-month, unpaid leave to, he said, keep teachers in the classroom.

In September 2010, the chancellor's office sent letters to all SIU collective bargaining groups alerting them to the proposed unpaid furlough days.

Cheng said at the time, if no new ideas were presented, or if the unions refuse to bargain, the university had no choice but to put those days in place.

By November, the university announced faculty and staff would take four furlough days beginning on Nov. 24.

Negotiations continued with the bargaining groups for the union. They represented employees who would not agree to the furlough days.

One union leader said the administration didn't listen to alternative ideas brought forward to solve the shortfall.

Cheng said in one way or another, each group would have to share its part of the budget cuts.

The other three furlough days were set for December, January and March, all days when students wouldn't have class.

February 2011

A rally was held outside of the chancellor's office. Six unions representing the employees were still in contact negotiations with the university.

At that time, the university took three of the four furlough days set out by Cheng.

Many who attended the rally signed a valentine for the chancellor. Leaders from the six unions then delivered it to her office.

August 2014

A judge for the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board found the SIU administration acted illegally during a 2011 contract dispute. The judge directed SIU to pay around $1.9 million to more than 1,500 current and former employees.

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