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UIC strikers turn away UPS deliveries

By Joe Iosbaker |
September 22, 2020
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Chicago, IL - On day nine of the strike by 4000 members of the Service Employee International Union Local 73, September 22, picket lines were dispersed to multiple locations across the medical center campus. Workers gathered by the dock entrances of the hospital, the Outpatient Care Center, the College of Medicine Research Building, the dean’s office of the College of Medicine, the College of Dentistry, and the Clinical Science Building.

In an act of trade union solidarity, UPS workers who are members of Teamsters Local 705 refused to cross the picket lines. As a result, numerous deliveries were halted, doubtlessly causing panic among management in the respective labs, clinics and academic departments. As each brown package car truck turned around and drove away, the strikers cheered and chanted, “What do we want? A contract! When do we want it? Now! And If we don’t get it? Shut it down!” The strikers were elated that they were able to strike such blows against the employer.

Referring to the mood on the picket lines, occupational therapist Cathleen Jensen, a vice president of Local 73, said, “Striking workers are very defiant; they feel confident that they are winning. Some are applying for the hardship funds, donated by other unions and community supporters, because obviously people have financial concerns.”

In the first week of the strike, strikers had concentrated on displays of unity among service, clerical, technical and professional employees with marches around campus and rallies in front of the hospital, the heart of the strike. Also, the Illinois Nurses Association had struck for seven days, returning to work on Saturday without a contract agreement. With bargaining failing to produce significant results, the Local 73 strikers have escalated tactics.

Respect us, protect us, pay us!

In conversations on the picket lines, many workers repeated similar messages about the aim of the strike: their concerns for universal PPE (personal protective equipment, such as face masks), fair pay, an end to outsourcing good union jobs, and the bottom line of dignity and respect. Many picket signs read, “Racism is a public health crisis,” which is a challenge to the language of a pledge by health centers in Chicago that the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System signed. Most of the strikers are Black and Latino, and most of the nurses are also oppressed nationality, mainly Filipino. The nurses and workers who died from COVID-19 at the hospital were also Black, Filipino and Latino.

In the afternoon, 20 strikers joined the Reverend Jesse Jackson and other faith leaders in a ceremony at the office of Governor J.B. Pritzker, where they laid flowers in front of his door to honor the 200,000 victims of COVID-19. The workers were there to press the governor to intervene in the strike. The governor appoints the board of trustees, the bosses of UIC management.

Vice President Jensen spoke about reverberations throughout the labor movement in response to this strike. “When we win, it will give other workers courage. We know that the nurses at Rush Medical Center are watching us to see what happens. A lot of workers in healthcare are discontented.”

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