Friday December 3, 2021
| Last update: Wednesday at 11:05 AM

UIC Workers 'Enron-ed'

by Joe Iosbaker |
September 1, 2002
Read more articles in
Sign says "No Enron at UIC"
University of Illinois-Chicago clerical worker protests job cuts. (Fight Back! News/Joe Iosbaker)

Chicago, IL - 150 workers from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) marched against job cuts and layoffs, Aug. 8. Members of Local 73 Service Employees International Union who have had 75 positions eliminated since October 2001, were protesting the announcement of the next round of cuts.

Large crews of workers came from the hardest hit departments, like Business Affairs. Four union sisters from the Psychiatry clinics rose at the rally to testify about the attacks. These customer service representatives told the story of a co-worker who was sick, but was pressured to come to work, where she then fainted.

"Since the cuts, we are so short-staffed, they told her she had to be there," reported Juanita Beltran. "What was worse, when she passed out, we called the supervisor. She didn't even ask, 'How is she?' Her first words were, 'Who's going to cover for her?'"

Jose Flores is a window washer. Management wants to contract out his job. "They say they don't need me, but they will still have windows to clean," he explained to Telemundo Channel 44, a Spanish language television station. "I know they'll pay workers from outside a lot less."

Scandal: Despite Budget Crisis, Big Raises for Top Managemen

In the days before the rally, a newspaper in the downstate city of Champaign Urbana exposed the administration. Top officials at the university have been caught acting like Enron executive Ken Lay.

The Champaign Urbana CityView newspaper reported that top officials gave themselves hefty raises last year. Their raises went through in August 2001. A few weeks later, departments were informed that they would have to give back some of what they were budgeted for the school year.

The raises were quietly awarded to the top administrators while they were preparing to cut teachers and workers!

Christine Boardman, president of Local 73 SEIU, said at the rally, "This management has acted like the corporate criminals at Enron."

Contract Negotiations Underway

Since the Aug. 8 rally, contract negotiations have started for Local 73's clerical members at UIC. The nearly 1000 workers are threatened with a two-year wage freeze. Local 73 is also bargaining for hundreds of service workers at the Urbana campus. They are also faced with management's claim that there is no money for raises.

At the protest, Tom Terranova, chief negotiator for the UIC clericals, drew a line in the sand, stating, "This is unacceptable for our members who have bills to pay, children to feed and rent to pay for. A wage freeze is a pay cut when you remember that everything else goes up. We won't go backward."

Many members echoed this sentiment. "In 1997 [the year of the last contract], we just won pay equity," said Sirlena Perry, a member of the bargaining committee. Perry was referring to the victory over racist pay differences that Chicago workers had suffered. SEIU Local 73 had to fight two fierce contract battles - for clerks in 1997, and for service workers in 2000 - to win equal pay. Prior to that, the University of Illinois had paid the mainly African-American and Latino workers in Chicago up to $2.00 an hour less than it paid the mostly white workers in Urbana.

Management has come to the negotiating table looking for more than just a wage freeze. They have a package of proposals that aims to weaken the union overall. "The union has grown much stronger in recent years," said Ron Lee, Local 73 representative. "It's a compliment to us that they are attacking us." he added.

Changes in November

Two important speakers at the rally were allies of the workers, State Senators Miguel Del Valle and Donne Trotter. Del Valle introduced Trotter, and said that he is in line to be the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee if the Democrats win in November. Trotter told the rally, "I see every U.I. budget, and I can tell you, there is plenty of money for workers to get a raise. When I'm chair of Appropriations, UIC's budget has to go through me! I will challenge the high salaries of these administrators!" he finished, to roaring agreement.

"If we [the Democrats] win in November, will the struggle be over?" Del Valle asked the workers. "No! Only one thing can keep this arrogant administration in check. You."