The University of Illinois at Chicago's faculty union moved one step closer to a strike Thursday after members voted to authorize a walkout, but union leaders will continue to attend mediation sessions with the school's administration as they hash out a labor agreement.
About four-fifths of the union's 800 voting members cast ballots in this week's vote, with 95 percent favoring the move if necessary to gain a fair contract.
Administration and union leaders have attended more than 50 bargaining sessions since July 2012, when the UIC faculty union was certified, making the school the first major public research university in Illinois where the faculty are part of a union. Last month, a federal mediator was brought in to help.
Among the major sticking points: the union's request for multiyear contracts and an increase in the minimum salary for full-time lecturers, from $30,000 to $45,000, and a 3.5 percent salary increase for all faculty. The administration has offered 2.75 percent, a union official said.
The vote may merely be leverage for the union as its leaders return to the bargaining table.
The vote "exceeded our expectations, and people are feeling really good, and now we're ready to try and go back and bargain this thing out," said union President Joseph Persky, a UIC economics professor.
Mediation sessions are scheduled over the school's winter break, and union leaders plan to attend them, a union official said.
Several steps would precede any strike, including a union membership meeting and a vote of its representative assembly. State law requires that 10 days' notice be given before a strike.
A UIC spokesman said Thursday night that school officials are looking forward to future talks.
"The mediation has barely begun, and we're optimistic that it will produce a positive outcome," Bill Burton said.