CFAC votes to affiliate with Illinois Federation of Teachers

By Alexandra Yetter, Co-Editor-in-Chief

File photo

Columbia’s part-time teachers union has voted in favor of affiliating with the Illinois Federation of Teachers—the same union that includes the Chicago Teachers Union—it was announced Wednesday.

With 57% of members participating according to the union website, 76% of voters favored the decision, which had been in discussion for more than a year and was spurred, in large part, by the ratification of the union’s contract with the college in May, according to Columbia Faculty Union President Diana Vallera, who is also an adjunct professor in the Photography Department.

“For me, it was when we started to see this real corporate takeover, not just at our institution but across the country, and certainly when it started to come in context at Columbia when we started to see all the mergers, the elimination of programs, student debt rising and the quality of education plummeting,” Vallera said. “When we started to bargain our contract in August 2017, the administration made it really clear that they want to break the union.”

In an email statement to The Chronicle, Lambrini Lukidis, assistant vice president of Strategic Communications and External Relations, confirmed the college was informed about the affiliation.

“We will continue to work productively and positively with CFAC, whether it be an independent union or an affiliated local,” Lukidis said.

The vote included decisions on percentage-based dues increases and constitutional changes, which Vallera said were required for affiliation.

By affiliating with IFT, Vallera said CFAC will not only receive support, but also have access to resources ranging from databases to assistance with grievances. However, CFAC will still maintain its autonomy, with IFT acting as a support system, Vallera said.

IFT is a 103,000-member strong statewide organization representing more than 200 local teacher unions, including the Chicago Teachers Union.

“As a high school English teacher, I saw many of my students go to Columbia College, where they studied with leading artists and practitioners in their respective fields,” said IFT President Dan Montgomery in a Wednesday press release. “I’m thrilled that these faculty members have chosen to join our IFT family. We understand the unique needs of contingent faculty, who are fighting powerfully against institutional changes that directly impact their work and their students’ education.”

Jason Betke, an adjunct professor in the Cinema and Television Arts Department, said affiliating with IFT gained support from some CFAC members in part due to issues with leadership, as reported April 16 by The Chronicle. He said a parent union could potentially help improve relations between members and executives.

The vote itself came as a surprise to some members who were not aware CFAC leadership was pursuing affiliation in the first place, said Betke, who favored the affiliation but questioned the voting process.

Betke said holding the vote before the end of summer break felt rushed, since many members could not attend a teleconference call, which would have answered any questions surrounding the vote. He said some members may have missed emails with clarifying information.

“This is the union leadership not sharing facts with us,” Betke said. “[There is] no harm in slowing down the process.”

In response to what he called a “rushed” vote, Betke, along with other members, circulated a petition to delay the vote until after the CFAC election this fall. More than 60 people signed the petition, and it was delivered to Vallera after the vote closed.

Vallera confirmed she did receive the petition and is reviewing it, but said some of the people who signed it were not union members and possibly at least one was an administrator. She  said some eligible members who signed the petition also voted.

“No one approached me before [the vote] with the petition,” Vallera said. “I’m interested to hear what members say, but as union president I have to follow what the majority of the members want. … It’s the votes that count. When you have 76%, there’s just no questions. If we had a low voter turnout, I would be concerned, but we didn’t.”


Story developments to come.

Correction 08/29/19 at 7:09 p.m.: A previous version of this article said 60% of eligible union members voted when 57% participated, according to the CFAC Facebook page. The Chronicle regrets this error.