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Nurses and workers declare end to strike at UIC

By Joe Iosbaker |
September 25, 2020
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Union construction workers refuse to cross picket line at UIC.
Union construction workers refuse to cross picket line at UIC. (Photo by Joe Iosbaker)

Chicago, IL -The largest strike since the economic crisis hit came to an end at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), September 24. Last night and this morning, tentative agreements were announced for the 4000 members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73, and the 1300 members of the Illinois Nurses Association (INA).

The nurses struck for seven days starting Saturday, September 12. SEIU members started on Monday, September 14 and stayed on the picket lines for ten days.

For both unions, safety for workers and patients was a priority, after four employees and one spouse died of COVID-19 because management failed to keep workers safe this spring. In all, 300 employees at UIC have contracted the virus. At least eight were on respirators and three suffered strokes.

INA won staffing levels, a key demand for them, with the agreement by the employer to hire 160 more nurses. For Local 73, according to President Dian Palmer, the wage agreement has increases of 2%, 1%, 1.5% and 1.5% for the four years of the contract. In addition, hundreds of the lowest-paid workers will have wages increased to $15 per hour. Wages for newly-hired food service workers had been less than $11 per hour, and the starting wage for building service workers were less than $13 per hour. Some food service workers employed for ten years still did not earn $15.

Striking workers believe that management finally relented because workers raised the stakes in recent days. UPS drivers with Teamsters Local 705 had refused to cross picket lines, and on Wednesday, Iron Workers, Electricians and others refused to cross a picket line into a $200 million construction site for a new surgery center being built by the University of Illinois Hospital. With 40 construction workers idled, strikers believe they cost UIC $20,000 for the day. In addition, a striking building service worker named Jose Quintero, with experience in construction, said that nine yards of concrete costing over $1000 was ruined because they weren’t able to pour it.

Local 73 President Palmer said, “When the university offered those they call ‘heroes’ zero raises for working during the pandemic, those workers said, ‘If we’re essential, then treat us like we’re essential.’ We also won shift differentials, bilingual pay, and raises for the DSCC workers.” DSCC is the Department of Special Care for Children, a state agency that come under UI Hospital management in the past decade. In two previous contract fights, Local 73 had demanded better wages for these underpaid workers, who are spread across the state in clinics.

Workers around the country watched this strike closely, and this victory will give momentum to contract fights in the coming year.

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