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UIC Workers Win One

But the Struggle to Defend Jobs Continues
by Joe Iosbaker |
March 1, 2003
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union members marching
UIC workers say, "Chop from the top!" (Fight Back! News/Joe Iosbaker)

Chicago, IL - The state of Illinois is $5 billion in the red, according to new governor, Rod Blagojevich, who made the announcement one week after he took office in January.

Everyone is asking, “How did this happen?” According to the group Citizens for Tax Justice, the state budget shortfall happened because of two things. First, rich people in Illinois pay lower taxes than in all but four other states. Second, in a recession, fewer taxes are collected overall.

Workers at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) know a third reason. “The bosses were having a party,” says Tom Terranova, chief negotiator for the 900 clerical workers at UIC who are represented by Local 73 of the Service Employees International Union. He was referring to a study the Center for Economic Policy Analysis did for the local, which found that, over the last 10 years, UIC’s top administrators raised their own salaries far above the wage increases for workers. For the top 1% of the bosses, average pay had risen from $150,000 10 years ago to over $250,000 now.

Employees were especially upset to learn, just before the budget crisis was made public, that many top administrators were given last-minute raises. Then, when the crisis was announced, it came with calls to cut service workers’ jobs. The big raises for the big bosses were never undone.

In response to this budget crisis, Terranova states, “UIC management and the politicians that are their partners in Springfield have wanted to balance their budgets on the backs of workers.”

The workers in Local 73 have a response to these attacks: “Cut the pork!”

Chop From The Top!

On Feb. 12, over 100 UIC workers and supporters marched on the University of Illinois Board of Trustees meeting. Luz Martinez, a member of the union negotiating committee, told the Spanish language TV stations 44 and 66, “Management has cut staff and froze our wages. We have much more work to do. It’s not right we should have no raises.”

Shirley McIntosh, a union steward, spoke at the press conference and said, “When we suffer, the patients and students who depend on our services suffer as well.” Sirlena Perry, another member of the negotiating committee, said, “A pay freeze is a pay cut, when you consider that our bills aren’t frozen. Our parking fees went up, gasoline and heating bills went up, like everything else.”

The rally was called to demand wage increases and a fair contract for the clerical workers. In addition, workers’ signs condemned the top administrators’ obscene raises.

“These administrators say that everyone has to tighten their belts to get through hard times,” said president Christine Boardman of Local 73. “But the burden is falling on the workers. Top management’s salaries and spending haven’t been affected.”

President Boardman was referring to a scandal that had broken in the press. The Board of Trustees spent over $500,000 in recent years chartering private planes to travel to meetings and sporting events. Although the main problem isn’t these perks, the news added insult to injury. The main problem is inflation of top salaries, which have cost the university $25 million over the last 10 years.

Union Successful in Saving Anniversary Raises

In the midst of this budget crisis, Local 73 is fighting to defend our members’ interests on a number of fronts. The contract expired in August, and in bargaining for a new contract, the negotiating committee has sought job security and to defend past gains. The union has also pursued legislation such as a line item review for the University’s budget, so that savings could be identified and then redirected to wages for workers.

As a result of the public outcry and the protests, workers won a hearing for our complaints about the inequities. Now, together with the legislative efforts, an initial victory has been achieved. The clerical workers won a continuation of ‘step increases’ for this year. Years ago, step increases were part of every title for civil service workers, but then they were eliminated for all workers in the early 1990’s. In 1993, union workers fought and won to get them back. Keeping step increases means most Local 73 members will get a 4% raise on their anniversary date. However, some members are already on the top stop and won’t get a step increase, and so the fight for a fair contract raise will continue.

Job Cuts and Attack on Seniority Rights

What management gave with a teaspoon, they are preparing to take away with a shovel. There are still 1200 job cuts threatened throughout the statewide University of Illinois system. To make matters worse, the UIC bosses’ negotiators are trying to eliminate the protection for senior workers. This would make it possible for department managers to cut people with longer years of service, in favor of newer hires.

Local 73 is responding with a fight to save our jobs. Part of this will be more actions by the members. Also planned is a legislative effort to stop the abuse of Extra Help Employees – who are essentially temporary workers who receive no benefits and work for years without getting permanent positions.

“The struggle continues,” said Glenda Searcy, another bargaining committee member. “We’re fighting for all of our members, for our job security and for a raise for everyone. Our members’ lives will be hurt if they have to go without a raise. We have to keep on fighting.”