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UIC Workers Continue Contract Fight

by Joe Iosbaker |
December 4, 2007
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Chicago, IL - “They want us to learn to live with less.” That’s how Denise King sees it. King had just finished marching outside the meeting of the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois on Nov. 14. She was one of 22 workers from UIC (University of Illinois - Chicago) who had traveled to the university’s Springfield campus to confront the Board of Trustees.

The workers, members of SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Local 73, are demanding a decent contract for 1500 clerical and administrative workers at UIC, including workers at sites in Rockford and Peoria. Together with 400 technical workers at the university’s medical center, they have gone without a contract raise for more than two years. In addition, workers are seeking language that gives them job security against replacement of civil service jobs and equal wages for workers on all campuses of the university.

Management put a new offer to the clerical and administrative bargaining committee the same day as the protest in Springfield. According to Jeff Dexter, lead negotiator for Local 73, that offer falls short of what the workers need.

University’s Racism, Sexism Hit

In addition to the Local 73 members, a student activist from UIC appeared at the board meeting. Sussan Navabi of Students for a Democratic Society spoke during the public comment section. She accused the university of having a history of discriminatory employment practices. This came to the attention of students when 35 prominent faculty members published a letter addressed to UIC Chancellor Manning. They criticized the drawn out contract negotiations for the nearly 2000 workers, mostly Blacks and Latinos, and mostly women.

Sussan explained that letter “prompted me to do some research into the history of inequality at UIC - two things which don’t belong in the same sentence, but unfortunately have and continue to.” The board had to sit through a list of examples of discrimination, including the 35 years that Black and Latino workers at the campus in Chicago were paid $1 or $2 an hour less than the mostly white workers in the flagship campus in Urbana.

Local 73 members, together with members of the Graduate Employees Organization from UIC and supportive faculty members from the Springfield campus, cheered Sussan’s remarks, and then marched outside, chanting and singing for almost an hour.

Diana Perez, another clerical worker from UIC, was fired up after the action. “This was my first protest, but I’m prepared to come out again, and to keep fighting. On the trip back to Chicago, Denise King continued, “We just got equal wages five years ago. Now they’re not offering us enough to stay up with the cost of living. It’s unacceptable.”

As Fight Back! goes to press, workers are meeting with the bargaining committee to consider the course of action. The bargaining committee is recommending a strike authorization vote.