The Salary Program: Not Enough to Help Faculty Catch Up, Keep Up

President Easter’s salary program is a small improvement for University of Illinois faculty.  That’s a good thing in comparison to past pay freezes, increases below the cost of living, and the 2 % pay cuts (furloughs) of 2010.

Unfortunately for most Urbana-Champaign faculty, the salary program will not compensate for  substantial cuts to real earnings, including increases in the cost of living and the cost of benefits. It is not enough.

What UI Faculty really need is salary program that keeps up with the new costs coming at them.

These include an increase in the cost of living — about 1.7% in 2012 — and huge rises this year in premiums for state-backed health insurance.  Some faculty members’ monthly premiums will triple, depending on the insurance they buy.

If the Administration’s pension “reform” plan is realized, other earnings cuts will follow.  President Easter advocates a 2% increase in the employee contribution  to the state retirement system, spread over two years.

Let’s do the math.  Assume that a hypothetical faculty member gets a 2.75%  increase (most will not),  the cost of living index does not rise any more in 2013  than it did in 2012,  and the increase in the employee’s health insurance premium amounts to about 1% of salary (it could well be more than that).  The hypothetical employee’s gross pay in real dollars would actually not  increase at all.  If they must also absorb a prorated 2% pension cost increase, the faculty member’s salary would be down by 1% over last year.

It is important to note that not all faculty and staff will see the full 2.75% announced by President Easter.  Most will get less than this, with increases ranging from .5% to less than 2.75%.  Colleges will hold back some of this pool to try to match outside offers.  If the employee does not receive the full 2.75%, if her/his health insurance increase represents more than 1% of salary, or if the CPI rises over the next 12 months, then the loss in real wages would be higher.

UIUC faculty pay has been consistently stalled for more than a decade, often falling behind the rate of inflation for years running.  Overall, our salaries have eroded until we have fallen to the bottom of the pay rankings against our peers.  Distinguished faculty members have been leaving to go to other universities or taking early retirement.

The central administration is addressing these serious problems with a salary program that is not adequate.   And yet the University is in excellent financial shape, according to its own audited statements.

CFA estimates that all faculty need about a 4% pay increase in 2013-2014 just to keep up with increased costs, including the projected pension contribution.  We strongly believe in merit awards, but they should be used to reward excellent research and teaching, not as a way to help some faculty catch up.

What can faculty members do? Collective bargaining would give faculty representation in setting our wages and benefits. It can help us build a realistic salary floor, to which true merit pay can be added.  It would also give us a stronger voice in Urbana and Springfield. It is time for a UIUC faculty union – to speak up in defense of our earnings and benefits, and to strengthen the quality of the University.

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