DeKALB – The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board might have to make an official ruling on whether it was legal for Northern Illinois University to raise the cost of employee parking permits while the problem was being negotiated with a union backed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
A group of nearly 700 administrative, professional, paraprofessional and clerical workers has been negotiating with NIU about its first collective bargaining agreement since February 2016.
Last week, an administrative law judge ruled in favor of the union after the union filed an unlawful labor practice charge against NIU last year for increasing the permits’ cost, which had not been done since 2011, by $19.
AFSCME Council 31 representative Anders Lindal said that although parking fees were the issue addressed in the complaint, there is a much bigger issue at hand: the university’s respect for its employees and the law.
“For many years, these workers too often do a lot of work behind the scenes that is critical to the NIU community,” Lindal said. “For the administration to make a unilateral change that took money out of their pockets at a time when the administration was supposed to be at the bargaining table talking to workers, hearing their concerns and reaching a mutual agreement, [that] continued a pattern of disrespect.”
According to the complaint, AFSCME Council 31 representative Sara Dorner sent an email to Jesse Perez, NIU director of employee and labor relations, in January 2016 requesting dates to meet at the bargaining table and informing the university that it could not make any changes to mandatory subjects of bargaining, including parking fees, without first reaching an agreement or impasse.
In May 2016, the university announced it would be increasing the cost of employee campus parking permits July 1.
In response, Dorner sent multiple emails demanding to bargain over the parking rates, which Perez said he would be open to discussing. Dorner, however, said discussions would be “pointless” without first restoring parking fees to the status quo until both parties had an opportunity to bargain.
The union eventually filed the unfair labor practice charge June 24.
Perez said he believed it was the union that was negotiating in bad faith, suggesting that the “take-it-or-leave-it” position of re-establishing the status quo for parking rates was a hostile move toward bargaining, according to the complaint.
After hearing from both parties, Administrative Law Judge Nick Gutierrez recommended that NIU stop refusing to bargain in good faith with AFSCME and from modifying any condition of employment before coming to an agreement or impasse. He also recommended restoring the parking rates to their original cost.
Both sides now have the opportunity to appeal the recommendation, which then would go before the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board. Lindal said that if the board approves the judge’s recommendation, the university would be compelled to restore the status quo.
NIU spokesman Joe King said the university is reviewing the judge’s findings and considering its options moving forward.