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Victory in Contract Fight at UIC

by staff |
May 26, 2008
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Chicago, IL - Clerical workers at the University of Illinois - Chicago (UIC) are celebrating after scoring a big victory in contract negotiations. The fight for this contract had dragged on over two years. When the last contract expired in August 2006, management’s team under the new vice chancellor, John Loya, took a very hard attitude in the first bargaining sessions. Management’s proposals included a new formula for wages that called for subtracting anniversary raises that are part of the seniority system for these workers. Willie English, a staff representative for SEIU (Service Employees International Union) Local 73, pointed out that this move “…would have resulted in employees falling behind the cost of living.”

The new contract was ratified by hundreds of workers in voting in early May. It includes two years of back pay at 2.5% raises for each year. This will allow workers to catch up to the increases in the cost of living. In addition, workers at the sites in Rockford and Peoria will get an additional 1% raise over two years. These workers are paid less than their counterparts in Chicago and it was an important principle for the union to move them toward equal pay.

Jeff Dexter, the chief negotiator for Local 73, thanked the bargaining committee he had headed up over the last 20 months. “This has been a fight for the needs of these working people, 98% women, 90% African American and Latino.” He continued, “Our members have made it abundantly clear they won’t be treated as second class citizens.” He was referring to the historical disparity between wages for employees at the university’s flag ship campus in downstate Urbana and those at UIC.

This hard fought battle for these 1500 union workers included the first ever strike vote against this employer. Leti Rios, a customer service representative in the Patient Access department, had said at the time of the strike authorization vote in January, “If this department alone (were to) go on a one-day strike, we will put a big hurt on the university.” Apparently, UIC management believed that to be the case for the entire bargaining unit and moved to get a settlement right after the strike vote.

The union had to keep united through the coldest winter in ten years. Sirlena Perry, a member of Local 73’s executive board and veteran of many negotiations at UIC, said, “It’s beautiful the way our members have shown their strength and stuck together. Local 73 can hold our heads high.” Workers went out on picket lines repeatedly in weather as cold as 20 degrees below zero to show their readiness to strike. The pickets included several actions against departments where union employees were being replaced by non-union personnel. The new contract also included important language that will help Local 73 to fight for job security for the civil service workers.

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