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Chicago Workers Battle The Boss

by Joe Iosbaker |
April 2, 1999
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Chicago, IL - In March, management at the University of Illinois Medical Center delivered 2 attacks on hospital workers. The first was a drastic shift change for all 140 housekeepers. A few days later, they announced the elimination of 250 jobs due to an unexpected revenue shortfall. The attacks sparked a week of protests by Local 73 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The mobilizations have already scored one victory for employees. Plus, notice has been served on management:

We'll be damned if our belt's gonna tighten. Let the bosses do some bullet bitin'!

Housekeeping Shift Changes

Housekeeping is under an outside management contractor, named Crothall, Inc. Louis Diaz, a Local 73 Chief Steward, made it clear to the members what this attack was about. "They didn't give us 10 working days notice. They refused to follow seniority rights and allow people to bid for the shift they wanted. They are ignoring that people have special needs, such as family members with disabilities. And they are punishing union stewards for standing up for the members." Louis spoke for all the housekeepers when he said, "The union has got to do something about it."

Revenue Shortfall at UIC Medical Center

In recent years, the medical center has had a 50% increase in patient visits. But the increase in revenues has not benefited everyone equally. Clinic workers handle 50% more patients. The top doctors and administrators are making record high salaries. Plus there are more administrators, deans, directors, and supervisors than ever before.

Workers in the clinics have had to fight tooth and nail for decent raises. Although UIC is a "not for profit" institution, it is still a capitalist one. With managed care, it has to expand or die. Even though the number of patients is higher than 2 years ago, there are not as many as last year. So the powers that be try to drive down labor costs to pay for administration salary increases, new buildings and equipment.


Management's crisis erupted when the chancellor had to appear before the Board of Trustees to ask to hire a consultant. Chancellor Broski admitted that they were $8 million short of their projection. He claimed they would need to cut several hundred more jobs, on top of the hundreds cut in the last 3 years. Then the bosses began looking for a scapegoat. They settled on the president of the hospital, Sid Mitchell. Rumors ran wild that he was escorted from his office in handcuffs. There may be some truth to the claims that there has been criminal financial misconduct, but workers know that the fingers should be pointing at the hospital management as a whole.

Local 73 Takes Action, Housekeepers Lead the Way

A meeting was organized to respond to the threats of position eliminations. 140 workers met and agreed on a plan of action. We condemned the administration's attempt to get us to pay for their mistakes. A picket line was called the next day.

The picket was the most fired up that the hospital had ever seen. Nearly 100 workers took part. Housekeepers, transporters, dietary workers, building service workers, and clerical workers chanted and waved signs. Housekeepers pulled co-workers out of the building. It was clear that they had been waiting to strike back at the hospital and the contractors. This was their chance to raise their voices. Picket signs showed the demands of all workers. No to Housekeeping Shift Changes. No Downsizing. No Con-tracting Out. No Union Busting.

Union busting is a real threat. Management has raised the possibility of contracting out. A new clinical building will open this year, and Chancellor Broski has threatened that housekeepers' jobs there aren't safe. "We can't allow them to get away with ignoring seniority rights and union rights with our current jobs, because they want the new build-ing contracted out," said Derrick Conley, an Assistant Chief Steward for Local 73. "We have to fight them now, or we'll have non-union workers in the new building."

Victory In the Course of the Struggle

Mike Jolle, Crothall, Inc.'s director at UIC, had said his decision was final, and that there was no way to change the new schedules, set to begin on March 15th. By the time of the picket, the human resources department had already informed us that they wanted a meeting to discuss the shift change. And then, the contractor was forced to grant an additional week before putting the shift changes into effect. Worker action produced immediate results.

The seniority rights of the housekeepers are still being violated. But workers are determined to fight until victory. When word got out that Crothall, Inc., had to grant an additional week before implementing their new schedule, workers were pleased. But Barbara Gulch, a union activist said, "We have to keep mobilizing after this. The attacks from the university won't stop, and we can't either."