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UIC Workers Maintain Strike Readiness

by Joe Iosbaker |
February 26, 2008
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Chicago, IL - The contract fight between 1500 clerical and administrative workers at University of Illinois - Chicago (UIC) has seen hundreds of workers on picket lines in recent weeks. Members of Local 73 SEIU (Service Employees International Union) voted overwhelmingly (94%) in January to authorize a strike if negotiations fail to reach an agreement. Since then, the campus has not stopped hearing the sounds of marching feet.

While legally required to attempt to resolve differences through federal mediation, the union has kept fighting back against attacks on members by departments and by human resources. On Feb. 7, 75 people took over the street in front of the offices of the Department of Pediatrics. The marchers included Local 73 members, but also members of the Illinois Nurses Association, Graduate Employees Organization, the Laborers Union and Students for a Democratic Society.

At least eight union members had received elimination notices by the new department head the previous Friday. Sirlena Perry, executive board member of Local 73, said “Who’s going to do their work? I’ll bet it’s Academic Professionals, since there’s still ten of those in the department.”

The message to management was clear: Workers are ready to fight on the picket line if things can’t be settled through negotiations. “This shows why we have to have language protecting our job security,” said Perry. The bargaining committee has been pressing this issue for one and a half years.

Department Heads Gone Wild?

Two weeks later, 50 workers, students and supporters rallied to support a long time employee being unfairly targeted by another new department head. Donna Dorney has been the administrative assistant in the Criminal Justice department for 15 years and has won praise and awards by UIC. However, the new department head decided she wanted a non-union academic professional, and has been making Dorney’s life hell ever since, going as far as suspending her without pay for something that was the head’s fault.

Gwen Pinager, a union member and old friend of Dorney’s, walked a mile and a half across campus to join the picket line. “I had to stand up for her,” she said.

These and many other examples show that it is more than just anti-union attitudes by new department heads. In each case, campus human resources is aware of these actions, knows that the department heads are violating civil service regulations, UIC Policy and Rules and Local 73’s contract, but still gives them a green light.

This treatment by these department heads is the same treatment management at UIC has given to members of Local 73 at the bargaining table - disrespect in the form of crummy wage offers and refusal to raise the top steps for our most senior employees, while pleas for job security go unheard. The next meeting with the federal mediator is set for March 6, but union members know they have to rely on themselves to get justice, in contract negotiations and in all other conflicts with management.