A 3-percent pay increase for Northern Illinois University faculty and staff was approved this morning by the NIU Board of Trustees, which then voted to extend the raise to employees in union bargaining units that still are negotiating contracts but have signed off on the increase.
NIU Acting President Lisa Freeman recommended the increase in her State of the University address last month for all NIU employees hired before Jan. 1, 2017.
That issue, among other concerns, attracted a full house to the Altgeld Hall boardroom.
During the public remarks segment which preceded Freeman’s formal proposal to the board, several speakers commented on the plan. Operating Staff Council President Barb Andree encouraged approval and reminded the board that there are other issues in regards to compensation for employees.
“We were concerned that we were being excluded, because we have an open negotiation for our initial bargaining agreement," Andree said, "and we were specifically excluded at the time Acting President Freeman made the announcement.”
Shortly after her formal approval as NIU Acting President, Freeman told WNIJ news that NIU needed to make up ground lost during the state budget impasse.
“We need to make sure that we take care of things that have been neglected during that period,” Freeman said, “and that includes employee compensation, it includes our physical plant and our infrastructure.”
She said the goal is for employees to see that increase in their paychecks by December.
Board Chairman Wheeler G. Coleman said that NIU can't make up seven years of no raises in one year, but the 3-percent increase is a start. Board Vice Chairman Dennis Barsema praised Freeman and the pay raise proposal as a good beginning.
Freeman’s proposal originally included only employees who were not part of an open contract with a union bargaining unit.
On Monday, union negotiators for the more than 600 clerical, administrative and paraprofessional employees at NIU announced that bargainers had agreed to extend the raise to that bargaining unit.
NIU AFSCME representative Sarah Dorner told the board it's not just about the money: It's also about recognition and respect -- having a voice.
“Three percent is not enough,” Dorner told WNIJ news earlier this week. “It is a meager increase for this group. The average increase for this unit would be $0.44 an hour with a three-percent increase, but it is a start.”
Today’s board action apparently adds the raise for NIU employees covered by the other open contracts – about a dozen -- in negotiation now. There are 19 employee bargaining units at NIU representing 960 employees.
Freeman read a statement on the raise and the state of union negotiations, promising that NIU will address workplace issues and is committed to good faith negotiations with unions.
In other action, the board voted to reduce tuition rates for U.S. out-of-state students to the same rate as Illinois residents in both undergraduate and graduate programs. The new rates will take effect in Fall 2018.
“We want students nationwide to experience our unique brand of hands-on, engaged learning," Freeman said, "and we believe elimination of this cost barrier will help us attract more students from across the country.”
Currently, non-resident tuition is almost double the cost of resident tuition, although residents of six midwestern states pay a premium of only about 40 percent.
The board also approved a $476,000 renovation plan for the Founders Library Cafe and entering a franchise agreement with a vendor.
The board approved a new procedure to review and measure the performance of NIU’s presidents. This has not been done formally or publicly before at NIU. “Presidential goals” – formerly called presidential priorities – will be posted publicly to show what is expected of the university’s chief executive.
The board discussed its priorities for the year, which include:
- Developing a thoughtful, thorough, presidential search process.
- Improving enrollment numbers
- Increasing awareness of NIU’s importance to the region and the state.
- Improving financial stability against outside shocks.
- Fostering better communication, understanding, expectations and ethical obligations between faculty, staff and the board.
- WNIJ's Guy Stephens and Victor Yehling contributed to this report. WNIJ is owned by and licensed to Northern Illinois University. Some WNIJ employees are among the unionized NIU employees negotiating an open contract.