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U.I.C.: Battle Against Discrimination

by Joe Iosbaker |
April 2, 2001
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Chicago, IL - 700 service workers at University Illinois Chicago (U.I.C.) are working without a contract. This is because management is refusing to end their decades-long practice of paying less to workers in Chicago than at the downstate campuses. Chicago workers are mostly Black and Latino; downstate workers are mostly white.

Housekeepers, food service workers, mail handlers, medical assistants, nurse techs, transporters, and others are fighting for wage parity. Willie English, a member of the Service Employee International Union, Local 73 negotiating committee, said, "Local 73 is stronger than ever before. If we stay united, we'll win."

U.I.C. has a bad relationship with the Black, Puerto Rican, and Mexican communities that surround it. U.I.C. has forced poor residents from their housing; they have a high drop out rate of students from the Chicago Public Schools; they have very few African American or Latino faculty members.

In recent years, Black and Latino state representatives have held two hearings on U.I.C.'s racist practices. Progressive politicians like State Senator Miguel Del Valle and State Representative Connie Howard have joined with workers, community residents, students, faculty and staff to challenge the U.I.C. bosses.

Management is also trying to get concessions at the bargaining table. They want workers to give up precious seniority rights and other union rights. Greg Hardison, a steward in hospital housekeeping, said, "We told our state representatives that we won't trade wage parity for job security. We want both."

Fighting to Keep Public Jobs

After years of paying Black and Latino workers less than their counterparts downstate, U.I.C. management now threatens their jobs with privatization and contracting out.

Local 73 filed labor charges against Wolcott, Wood, and Taylor - a company U.I.C. started. This so-called 'outside company' is threatening the jobs of the clerical workers who do the billing and collections for the hospital and clinics. The Illinois Education Labor Relations Board issued a complaint against U.I.C. for refusing to bargain over the elimination of these jobs. There will be a hearing in May or June, where the union will expose the anti-union practices of the university.

Local 73 grows in strength

Over 160 Marriott workers in food services at the student union buildings at U.I.C. just organized into Local 73. Along with a group of about 100 workers, who had been members of another union and who voted to switch to Local 73, this brings Local 73's numbers at U.I.C. to over 2000. Sirlena Perry, an assistant chief steward who helped organize the Marriott workers, said, "Now we have to fight for a good contract. We'll get one, or we'll keep fighting Marriott."

U.I.C. had privatized these jobs 15 years ago. Marriott food service workers make several dollars an hour less than the U.I.C. food service workers. By organizing these workers, SEIU Local 73 sent a message to U.I.C. that "we will follow the work." Unionizing will cut into the profits U.I.C. has been keeping.

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