Chicago, IL- Cathleen Jensen is an occupational therapist at the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center and she is on strike.
There are a total of 500 of her co-workers who are part of the Professional Unit of civil service workers. They went on strike May 30 in response to management refusing to give them wage equity in negotiations for their first contract. They joined the Service Employee International Union (SEIU) Local 73 almost two years ago and have been in negotiations with management for 14 months.
Diana Thomas, Communications Services Specialist in telecommunications, told what she found when she got to the bargaining table as part of the negotiating committee. “We saw that the so called academic professional employees were given raises far above ours.” Thomas is a civil service employee. “We demanded the same wages, and they offered us a little this year and no commitment for the next two years.”
Jensen said, “Management is hiring new graduates out of school, giving them a little more than last year, but refusing to give many of us raises for six years.” Jensen is proud to work at a hospital where she cares for a community of patients that is underserved. “That’s why I have stayed here,” she explained.
In recent years, top administrators at the University of Illinois at Chicago received large salary increases, causing controversy in the public eye. “This hasn’t caused the Board of Trustees to reverse the increases for the top 1%,” said Phil Martini, vice president of the local.
The medical center has been a going concern, with patient visits having increased by 300,000 a year in the past 20 years. These workers joined Local 73 - which already represented 3000 workers at UIC and which has a proven history of winning good contracts - in 2010, as the service, clerical and technical workers were preparing to strike. In the union movement, it is commonly held that new workers of an employer can’t be unionized when workers under existing contracts are preparing to strike.
The strikers marched on the Board of Trustees meeting in the pouring rain on the second day of the strike. The strike will continue until 6:00 p.m. June 1.