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We Ain't Gonna Take It No More!

400 Workers Rally Against Racist Pay Differences

by Joe Iosbaker |
June 7, 2001
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UIC workers march for a decent contract,
UIC workers march for a decent contract, June 5, 2001. The militancy and determination displayed by members of SEIU Local 73 has captured the attention of the Chicago labor movement. (Fight Back! News/Joe Iosbaker)
Workers marching with sign and banner
UIC workers have had enough of racist pay differences.

Chicago, IL - Over 400 workers, members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73, rallied on the city's West Side, June 5. They have been fighting for a new contract at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) since October 1.

The workers were fired up. They came out and rallied in two separate shifts-chanting, singing, and making non-stop noise for 3 hours, the first hour in pouring rain. The message sent to management: "We demand wage parity with the University's downstate work force." About 86% of the membership of Local 73 is Black, Mexican, or Puerto Rican. At the University of Illinois' downstate campus in Champaign, the majority of the workforce is white. The Chicago workers are paid an average of $2.12 an hour less than the University's workers in Urbana and Springfield.

Bill Silver, chief negotiator, told the rally, "The job titles are the same, the work is similar - only the pay is unequal and discriminatory." Willie English, a building service foreman and member of the negotiating committee, called out, "Respect us! Don't neglect us!" The workers roared back their agreement.

Over 800 workers are represented by Local 73, including building service workers, housekeepers, food service workers, parking service agents, nurse technicians, transporters, and medical assistants.

In addition to wages, union members are fighting for seniority rights. Long-term employees should be allowed to choose shifts and days off that allow them to spend time with their families. In addition, UIC uses many temporary workers. These "900 Hour" employees work full time, but receive no benefits or job security.

UIC: A Fortress of Struggle

UIC is much richer than it was 10 years ago. It received $350 million from the state, which is 5% more than last year; tuition from students; and nearly $200 million in research grants. Plus, the number of outpatient visits to a recently built clinic has doubled. But the rich have prospered while employees have been under attack. There has been an explosion in the number of top management positions, and top salaries have doubled, and doubled again. Yolanda Noyola, a building service worker, said, " It's not fair, especially for the 900 hour workers, who get no benefits."

Much of the problem at UIC is from the profit-crisis in healthcare. Last year, the HMOs demanded higher profits, so they lowered what they'll pay the hospital or clinic for each service. The federal government has been cutting back Medicare and Medicaid. The federal government also doesn't fund higher education as it did in the past. For both the state and federal government, in healthcare and in education, if it doesn't serve the rich, they won't fund it. UIC management has tried to shift this crisis on to the backs of workers.

Since 1996, UIC workers have been fighting against mounting attacks. Greg Hardison, a hospital housekeeper and union steward, said, "We marched last year against privatization of the whole medical center; we marched the year before to stop contracting-out of housekeeping jobs; the year before that, we protested when steward Randy Evans was unjustly disciplined; and the year before that, we jammed with management when they started cutting jobs." Randy Evans, a housekeeper and member of the negotiating committee, said, "This management is like the Terminator. They just keep coming. And we just keep fighting back."

Legislative Hearings to Follow

This show of force is Local 73's response to the University's attacks. Workers chanted, "UIC - We ain't gonna take it no more!" as they marched around the Medical Center. Local 73 members all jammed into the Labor Relations' offices at the end of the march to present a pay equity grievance, signed by 350 workers, demanding the same wages paid downstate.

Greg Parran, UIC's negotiator, refused to speak to the workers. He called the police and then hid inside his office. The workers taped their grievance to his door, then marched out, with the chant, "No Contract, No Peace," sounding through the halls.

Local 73 president Christine Boardman also announced that Local 73 is calling for hearings by the state legislators to investigate these discriminatory practices by UIC. State Senator Donnie Trotter, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus in Springfield, was present at the demonstration, as was Senator Barack Obama. Both pledged their support to end the racial disparity in wages.

Other supporters at the rally included the Illinois Nurses Association, Jobs With Justice, UIC's Graduate Employees Organization, and a representative of the Chicago Federation of Labor. Margaret Blackshere, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO came to pledge her support, and the backing of the 1,000,000 plus members across Illinois for our struggle.

The demonstration ended with workers chanting the promise, "We'll be back." The spirit and unity of Local 73 should prove to UIC management that this is a promise that will be kept.