UIC workers threaten walkout for second time in two months
Historic strike looms
10/13/2010 10:00 PM
Shouting, “Chop from the top!” University of Illinois-Chicago staff joined student organizers Thursday to air grievances of pay inequities in a time when university leaders and academic professionals are getting more and more money.
Service Employees International Union Local 73 members turned circles in the UIC quad Oct. 7 yelling slogans such as, “No contract. No peace,” while threatening to take 3,000 maintenance, technical and clerical workers out for a history-making strike on a campus that has never seen one.
After a more than a year without contract, Local 73 gave a strike notice in early August, saying that the university was not bargaining in good faith.
Seeking at least an 8.25 percent pay raise and annual step increments, organizers in the last minute called off a three-day strike and rally session scheduled for the first day of classes after saying the university had budged slightly and shown some movement. At the time, union officials agreed to delay a strike for 30 days.
On Friday, a second strike notice was given after talks ground to a halt early this month on issues related to “economics and wages,” said Local 73 spokesperson Adam Rosen.
More negotiations are expected this week, with the first possible day of the strike being Monday, Oct. 18.
Local 73 Vice President Phil Martini said workers want a full restoration of step increases in addition to the base pay raise.
Step increases are annual pay increases for each year of service and are a contract goal sought in addition to an 8.25 percent wage increase.
“The only way we will agree to an agreement is if UIC management restores the step increases for each year of the proposed three-year contract,” Rosen said.
The university talks about hiring and wage freezes while all the while hiring more academic professionals at up to 20 percent more cost, Martini said.
Academic professionals are salaried employees and exempt from union contracts. The continued loss of union jobs to so-called professionals through a self-managed university exemption process was recently aired during a special hearing before some on the Senate Higher Education Committee.
Tom Morelock, executive director of the State Universities Civil Service System, said UIC wrongly exempted jobs from union contracts at the highest rate among all state universities.
“No other university is as bad,” Morelock told the senate committee.
Elaine Johnston, a 14-year union employee, said 400 jobs had been exempted from organizing and converted to salary staff since June.
“The administration is out of control,” Johnston said.
Many of the grievances aired by Local 73 workers last week fell on ears largely deaf to their issues. Students and others in the quad not involved in the rally focused mostly on smart phones and laptops.
UIC spokesperson Bill Burton stood in the wings listening to union leaders stoke workers’ ire during the lunch-break rally with speeches and testimonials detailing union-busting tactics.
“We’re continuing to negotiate and hope to come to a settlement that is fair to employees, citizens and families,” Burton said when asked for a comment.
To date, the University of Illinois System and UIC have not responded publicly to union accusations or the findings of the state Civil Service System supporting workers.
Burton would not comment when asked if the university took serious Local 73’strike notice. Instead he referred to the university’s strike-free 45-year history, and said “I’m going to let the record speak for itself.”