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UIC Workers Say 'Make the Rich Pay!'

by Joe Iosbaker |
July 1, 2003
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Chicago, IL - Local 73 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) are locked in combat with management at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).

The state budget crisis has meant millions of dollars cut from the University. The bosses have passed this along to the workers as position eliminations. Hundreds of jobs are being threatened at the three campuses of the University of Illinois (Chicago, Springfield and Urbana).

In response, the union workers have joined together with the Graduate Employees Organization, faculty, students and community allies to beat back the attacks. Recent actions have included a speak-out where over 150 gathered to express their bitterness. Speaker after speaker rose to condemn the greed of the top administrators, whose salaries have ballooned over the last ten years. Bill Silver, SEIU Division Director for the University of Illinois, pounded management, showing a list of over 20 administrators at the UIC campus alone, who each make higher salaries than the governor.

Lillian Mercado, who is a customer service representative, rose to tell of the workload she has taken on. "I am doing the job of two people, and one of those jobs is to supervise three other employees. I'm not being paid for this extra work. It's unfair and the patients suffer too, with longer waits and more problems in handling their paperwork."

Greg Hardison, a steward in hospital housekeeping, said, "There are two choices UIC could make. They could balance this on our backs, or they could chop from the top. I prefer the second option." Hardison went on to say, "Working people can't be blamed for this crisis. The state got in this mess because the rich people don't pay their share of taxes. Now they want to cut our jobs to make up the shortfall. I say, make the rich pay!" The crowd applauded with approval.

People's Lobbying

On May 27, 20 workers drove the four hours to the state capitol to press the legislators to act. The ongoing battle against the bloated bureaucracy at UIC had already become an issue in the governor's election last Fall. On Labor Day 2002, then-candidate for governor, Rod Blagojevich, had singled out the university as an example of excessive pay for administrators and out-of-control growth in the number of top bureaucrats. When the governor announced his budget proposal in May of this year, he again singled out the University of Illinois bosses, and told them in his speech that their excesses had to be reversed.

"Blagojevich knew about this because we had been exposing this problem for years," said Sirlena Perry, a secretary at UIC and a member of the clerical bargaining unit. "We went down to Springfield ourselves to put more pressure on management to cut the pork, not the jobs at the bottom."

Tom Terranova, Local 73 representative for the clericals at UIC, said, "After the budget speech, UI management made public statements that they would cut administration. But that's not what happened. All the job cuts that have been announced so far are from employees involved in providing services to patients and students."

The lobbying undertaken by Local 73 was not your run-of-the mill effort. A letter was circulated for signatures by state representatives and senators. The letter, addressed to the governor, urged him to tell the University of Illinois again to cut top salaried administrative positions. In six hours of button-holing politicians, 49 signatures were obtained.

Some of the Democrats pretended to be on the side of the workers, but wouldn't sign the letter. One of them even said, "I don't want to resort to brute force against this administration."

In response, the workers raised their fists to celebrate their battle. Shirley McIntosh, another clerical worker in the bargaining committee, responded to the liberal politician, saying, "We're fighting for our jobs, for our livelihood, for our families. They may call it brute force, but we call it union power."