Arbitration panel upholds union workers’ rights in landmark decision

CHAMPAIGN – In a significant victory for labor rights, a federal arbitrator has ruled in favor of a member of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign Association of Academic Professionals, IEA-NEA (AAP), upholding union educators’ rights and ensuring fair treatment in the workplace.

The arbitrator found the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (UIUC) administration violated the collective bargaining agreement covering visiting academic professionals at the university when the AAP member’s appointment was not renewed in retaliation for her participation in protected union activity.

“Clearly, our member was being retaliated against, essentially being fired for using her voice to advocate for change and hold management accountable. This arbitrator’s decision confirms no one should have to be afraid to file a grievance or participate in any other union work,” AAP President Lisa Bievenue said.

In September of 2022, the member and the AAP filed a grievance against her supervisor for violating her rights under the collective bargaining agreement. In that grievance, the union argued that contract language regarding non-discrimination, performance evaluations and just cause discipline had been violated. This first grievance was resolved amicably at the dean’s level. However, when the member’s appointment with UIUC expired in the summer of 2023, she was not renewed by her supervisor, in spite of having had nothing but extremely favorable performance reviews throughout her time at the university.

The member began her work UIUC in 2012 and was promoted multiple times before her non-renewal in 2023. Her most recent position was as assistant director of operations at the Smart Energy Design Assistance Center (SEDAC), which is part of the department of landscape architecture.

“This arbitration decision marks a milestone in the ongoing fight for worker empowerment and highlights the importance of collective bargaining in safeguarding the interests of all education staff, from those who work at our esteemed colleges and universities to those who foster growth in the younger generation at the pre-k through 12 level,” Illinois Education Association President Al Llorens said.

Added Bievenue, “We hope the administration has learned an important lesson about the laws protecting our union and our members. We won’t stand for anything less. We need a working environment that’s safe, welcoming and conducive to the research and educational mission of this great land-grant university where we work.”

UIUC-AAP has also filed an unfair labor practice (ULP) charge against UIUC administration related to this same incident.


At 135,000 members strong, the Illinois Education Association (IEA) is the largest union in Illinois. The IEA represents PreK-12 teachers outside the city of Chicago and education support staff, higher education faculty and support staff, retired education employees and students preparing to become teachers, statewide.

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