Updated with quotes from SIUC and union officials. Reporting from Jennifer Fuller at WSIU was used in this report.
One union at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale has approved a strike authorization, and three more are slated to vote on similar questions.
The Association of Civil Service Employees authorized a strike on Tuesday. More than 80 percent of those voting supported a walkout. Union members have been working without a contract since June 2010. Three other unions representing faculty and graduate students will hold authorization votes in the coming week.
All four bargaining units are affiliated with the Illinois Education Association. An IEA official, Jim Clark, called the authorization votes a tool in the negotiating box, and says leaders are still hoping to avoid a walkout.
"I think people can understand why we've been driven to this tactical approach," Clark said. "It's not by anybody's choice. We've done everything we can to avoid doing the authorization votes, and that strategy has not worked to get an agreement."
SIU president Glenn Poshard and other university officials hope to reach new contract deals soon.
"Obviously, everyone wants this resolved," Poshard said. "Certainly the Administration wants it resolved, just as do employees of the university. We feel that we've made good faith efforts to resole this over a period of a long time now."
The unions say the terms the administration is offering undermine tenure and rerstrict academic freedom - charges Poshard denies. He says he understands the union's frustration, but says the bargaining units aren't willing to acknowledge the serious budget problems the university faces.
"We've just gone through the worst financial conditions in the history of the state of Illinois, and in the history of the university," Poshard said. "Have we laid anyone off during that time? No. Has the Board (of Trustees) threatened anyone's tenure during all that time? No."
The Faculty Association takes its authorization vote on Wednesday. Graduate students will vote on Friday, and non-tenure-track faculty will vote early next week.