ANNUITANTGATE

On November 13, 2014 Oakton announced they were "discontinuing", that is, firing, 53 adjunct faculty, effective July 1, 2015, because the College had been assessed $167,000 by SURS because 3 adjuncts had been rehired after becoming "affected" under the Illinois "Return to Work Act", otherwise known as the "Biss bill" (below). The AFA believes this was unethical, a violation of our contract, and a violation of state and federal laws and constitutions. We have been fighting this decision on various fronts. This page gives a history of the struggle so far.

The Biss Bill mandated a severe penalty on any SURS institution that hires a SURS annuitant that has made an annual salary after 2013 of more than 40% of highest annual earnings prior to retirement. While this bill was aimed at highly paid administrators it affected mostly adjuncts with small SURS pensions, in some cases even teaching one course a year could "affect" them. Some community colleges used this bill as an excuse to not hire SURS annuitants at all. At the urging of the IEA Higher Education Council the Senate passed SB 2887 in December 2014 which exempts annuitants with annuities of less than $10,000 from becoming "affected."

November 13, 2014: Email from Mum Martens, Director of Human Resources November 13:, Mum Martens sent out the following email:

Dear Colleagues,

Although you may have already received a communication concerning the College's decision to no longer hire annuitants, we believe that you should have an explanation of the background for the decision.

As you know, in 2013 the General Assembly passed a SURS Return to Work law that provides new policies and procedures for SURS annuitants who continue to work at SURS institutions. One provision of this Act enacts financial penalties for colleges and universities that continue to employ “affected annuitants” whose salaries exceed a predetermined limit.

In August, 2013, when the Act took effect, Oakton, in contrast to a number of peer community colleges, initially decided to take steps to allow us to continue to employ annuitants while limiting the College’s exposure to financial penalties. We made this decision because we value annuitants’ expertise and their knowledge of our culture and our students. We instituted a monitoring system to limit the assignments of annuitants in an effort to avert financial penalties imposed by SURS. Regrettably, despite these substantial efforts, SURS has notified us that we will likely be subject to significant financial penalties based upon our continued employment of affected annuitants.

Because of the challenges in maintaining this monitoring system and our concerns about SURS' administration and enforcement of the Act, we have decided to discontinue employment of all SURS annuitants effective July 1, 2015. After July 1, 2015, only the President has the authority to make an exception.

You may also know that there is pending legislation to amend the Return to Work Act. The SURS website provides information on this, as, of course, does a web search for "SURS Return to Work Legislation." We would like to thank you for the service that you have continued to provide after your declared retirement.

Sincerely,

Mum Martens

Human Resources

On Sunday, November 16 AFA President Barbara Dayton sent the following reply:

Dear Ms Martens,

I would like to raise several points with regard to your e-mail of Nov. 13, 2014 announcing the college’s decision not to rehire SURS annuitants after July 1, 2015.

Presumably this policy has been issued on behalf of the Board of Trustees, but you give the President the authority to over-rule the policy by making an exception. You offer no guidelines as to when this may occur. Are you suggesting that each annuitant appear before the President to plead his case?

Of the potential 80 annuitants, only 3 exceeded the limit imposed by SURS while teaching their assigned Oakton classes. They have already been notified that their service will be terminated at the end of the semester. Many annuitants entered into retirement with the understanding that they would be allowed to continue to teach. Had it not been for this understanding, many would not have retired when they did. Your action to discontinue hiring annuitants that earn less than 40% of their pre-retirement salary is arbitrary and capricious. It discriminates against the majority of annuitants who complied with the legislation because it was too much of a challenge for Oakton to develop an effective monitoring system?

The decision to penalize SURS annuitants has apparently been made before SURS has formally assessed a penalty. You use the words “LIKELY to be subject to significantly penalties…” In other words, the decision has not yet occurred, but you are precipitously taking action in advance. In addition, once SURS has actually assessed a penalty, will Oakton not confirm the validity of the claim before actually paying it?

Finally you mention the amendment to the Return to Work Law pending in the Legislature. Given Oakton’s decision not to hire ANY annuitants, passage of this amendment will be moot. Will Oakton reconsider its decision if the amendment is passed? The original purpose of the bill was to limit the salaries of highly paid workers who returned to work after their retirement. Its unintended consequence was to limit the salaries of the lowest level workers. Your decision now makes it impossible for these lowest level workers to be employed at all. Who can live on an annuity of $500 a month?

These are just a few of the issues raised in your e-mail that I find troublesome.

The AFA will take any formal/legal action at its disposal to prevent this new policy from going into effect.

Sincerely,

Barbara Dayton, President AFA

November 18, 2014: Over 30 adjuncts and supporters showed up at the Board of Trustee's meeting. Public Safety would not allow standing in the board room so the overflow crowd was ushered into the auditorium at the end of the 1600 wing where there was a video feed. Thirteen speakers addressed the board during public participation. There were a number of Newspaper articles covering this story: Journal Topics
Chicago Tribune
Supplement to Tribune Article
Daily Herald Business Ledger
Daily Herald Editorial

December 9, 2014 over 25 adjuncts and supporters showed up at the Board of Trustee's meeting, 10 of them talked to the board durning the public participation segment. See Barbara Dayton's Comments to the Board of Trustees

December 2014 -- February 2015 Seventeen adjunct faculty filed grievances against the College. They were heard individually during this period, all grievants received the same form response: we can and will fire you.

December 30, 2014 SB2887 was signed by the Governor. Unfortunately, Oakton refused to honor the spirit of this bill and hire annuitants who fit the criteria.

January 20, 2015 Barry Dayton presented a power point showing that the $167,000 in assessments was possibly due to a clerical error in a revised list of salary limits for the annuitants. See details here and Peg's response and Barry Dayton's response to her.   Dayton later discovered that this list may not have been used, in fact it now appears that the College simply refused to check for "affected" annuitants as required by the Biss Bill and so missed these very obvious excessive assignments given to the annuitants by their chairs. The fine was easily preventable.

February - March 2015 Hearings were held on 17 grievances filed by annuitants, as expected they were all denied with similar denial letters. A hearing was also held on Chet Kulis' arbitration, Mr Kulis had been fired in April 2014 because he had become, intentially, an "affected" annuitant. Briefs must be filed so we do not expect to know the result until at least May. On the advice of IEA the AFA filed a demand to bargain letter with the administration to see if they would solve this issue in good faith. Although the administration agreed to meet and the AFA gave a proposal which would help them avoid future SURS fines, the administration refused to give a counter proposal ending the negotiations on a note of their bad faith. It is worth noting that they pointedly did not offer to rehire SURS annuitants with annuities under $10,000 per year who will be exempt from the Biss law as of July 1. This clearly shows that the Biss law is not the reason for not rehiring annuitants and instead their goal is to try to weaken the seniority clause in our countract unilaterally, an unfair labor practice (ULP), which will hurt all adjuncts. Accordingly IEA has been instructed to file a ULP complaint with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations board.

March 31, 2015 At the Spring membership meeting it was agreed by those members present to form an Action Committee to plan more events to show the administration and community that adjuncts have not given up the fight against the firing of SURS annuitants. Steve Brody was chosen to chair that committee.

April 15, 29 Negotiators from AFA met with the administration. Proposals were traded, but at the end of the day the administration decided to discard both and start again on May 13. It is becoming more clear that their goal is union busting.

May 13, 2015 The IEA has finally filed a ULP against Oakton asserting that SURS annuitants should not have been "discontinued" until the AFA agreed at the bargaining table. The IEA is asking that if annuitants lose salary by not teaching or having a full schedule in the Fall 15 or later they should be "made whole", that is, given back salary. Also arbitration on the 17 grievances has been requested by IEA. Although a bargaining session was held today, the AFA team has not reported any progress.

May 26, 2015 The Arbitrator denied Chet Kulis' grievance, stating in part

The Undersigned Arbitrator must concur with the college that the grievance should be denied because the contract language does not support the position of the Union. As the record demonstrates, the College excercised its contractual right and "sole discretion" under Section 3.6 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement to not re-employ the grievant based upon his status as an Affected Annuitant. See more of the Arbitrator's full decision here. Note that the arbitrator did not rule either way on unaffected annuitants.

June 9, 2015 The AFA bargaining team met today, June 9, with the Administration. They were cautiously optimistic about reaching a compromise which both sides could feel good about. Unfortunately, this did not happen. The Administration was firm, moving little from their original position of firing all annuitants. The AFA will continue to pursue its pending arbitration covering the 17 “unaffected” annuitants who filed Step 2 grievances as well as the Unfair Labor Practice.

July 1-2, 2015 A bargaining session for the first was postponed due to lack of a new College offer. On July 2 an article about Oakton and Harper SURS annuitants appeared on the front page on several Trib-Local papers. Chet Kulis was quoted extensively as was Bonnie Lucas for the College. She gave the figure of 77 annuitants fired on July 1, we know about 45 of them were part time faculty, we are not quite sure who the other 22 are.

July 21, 2015 We finally bargained again for the first time in almost 2 months. The College basically recycled their proposal of May 13 offering to let each BU member to teach 2 more courses sometime in the period from January 2016 to May 2017 in return for the AFA terminating all legal actions (arbitration and ULP) against the College. What was new is they now called their offer a "last best offer". No one had ever heard of such a thing for impact bargaining, so Camille Grant, our IEA rep, tried to explain it to us at the table. In regular bargaining it is when the employer challenges the union to sign the current proposal or strike. Everyone had a good laugh at the idea of our annuitants, who have all been fired anyway, striking. Also the college could impose their last best offer. This got a good laugh from our side also since we would get the courses without having to give up our legal actions. In the end, the College agreed on another bargaining session in early September. Later, however the AFA formally declined the College offer and cancelled further meetings "unless the College made a substantially better offer."

January 26, 2016 An arbitration hearing was held on Barry Dayton's Grievance which also referenced other bargaining unit annuitants. The college was up to its old tricks and will try to limit the number of faculty covered by this grievance, but otherwise had no new defense other than "we can permanently fire anyone at any time for any reason" which is certainly not supported by the Union contract. Both sides have until March 21 to file briefs and then the arbitrator has several months to make a decision. So nothing will happen soon.

March 2016 Briefs were submitted to the American Abitration Association who set a deadline for a decision of April 21. The ULP was rejected by the Labor Board (IELRB) who was under the impression that the fired annuitants were all "affected". The IEA filed an "exception", but on grounds other than the the IELRB's main mistake.

Two Oakton SURS annuitants filed personal Federal Lawsuits.

April 2016 The arbitrator ruled against the union, basically using the Labor Board's arguments and the College's misreading of the Kulis arbitration. He did not see the difference between "affected" and "not affected" as significant.

June 2016 A class action lawsuit was filed in Federal Court on June 29. This covers both Bargaining unit and non-unit part time faculty SURS non-affected annuitants. This involves EEOC claims as well as so called "1983" violations of our civil rights and violations of the US constitution.

July 2016Labor Board revised decision on ULP calls for hearing December 20, 2016 on ULP to consider "dispositive issues of law or fact."

August 2016 Class action lawsuit re-assigned to Judge Matthew Kennelly who was handling the individual cases. Cases are not combined but will be consolidated for discovery purposes.

October 2016 Judge Kennelly has dismissed College motions and approved proceeding on all charges.

March 2017 The lawsuit continues with a motion for class action status. The Labor board finally had its hearing on the ULP.