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UIC: Local 73 steward suspended for union activity

Commentary by Joe Iosbaker |
April 19, 2013
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At the hospital of the University of Illinois at Chicago, one of the most recognized union stewards is Randy Evans of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73. With 33 years of employment as a Building Service Worker (BSW) in Environmental Services, and 18 years of service to his coworkers as a steward, you would think that Randy would have a place of honor at the medical center.

But in December, he was given a two-week suspension without pay. The charges against Randy stemmed from his defense of a coworker in his duties as a union steward.

What led management to suspend Randy?

Several of the departments in the hospital, including Environmental Services, Central Sterile Supply, Patient Transport, Dining Services and Material Management, have a terrible history of violations of the union contract, such as failing to meet the deadlines for providing information, failing to respond to requests for meetings and allowing grievances to go unanswered.

Randy won’t tolerate the union contract being treated this way, and is forceful in demanding the respect of these managers. This is the first reason that management has attacked him.

Randy is their scapegoat

Why is this suspension happening now? In November 2011, there was a murder that occurred in the Medical Center. A man killed his ex-wife after management put them both on the same shift, together with her new boyfriend. All three employees involved worked in Environmental Services and the incident exposed the failures of the management methods in that department.

These methods include:
-- Disrespect of employees: BSWs should be recognized for their contribution to keeping the hospital free of germs. Instead they get yelled at and told to work harder.
-- Overwork: As the medical center has multiplied the number of patients it sees, the work load on every building service worker has increased.
-- Denial of benefit time usage: Management doesn’t want employees to use benefit time for vacation and sick leave.
-- Divide and conquer: In order to keep workers from uniting against them, older workers are pitted against new; men against women; and nationality against nationality.
--Discipline equals punishment: Workers get written up all the time. They work in fear of being moved to a new assignment or work area; of the loss of pay if suspended; and the ultimate threat of loss of their job.

Shadow of the plantation

There’s another underlying reason for the attack on Evans: racism. UIC is an employer whose labor relations were built on white supremacy. When UIC was built in the 1960s, the administration created a racist, two tier pay system. Mostly white workers in Urbana were paid one rate; mostly Black workers in Chicago were paid $1 or $2 an hour less. This system stayed in place until Local 73 grew strong enough to win the Urbana pay grades for all (see Fight Back article http://www.fightbacknews.org/2001fall/chiworkerswin.htm )

What management gives with a tea spoon, they take away with a shovel

When the workers - Black, Latino and white - won that victory in 2001, it didn’t bring an end to the system of racist discrimination at UIC. At the time of the victory over the pay disparity, there were almost 400 BSWs at UIC. Today there are only 250. This was management’s revenge for the workers victory in 2001: downsizing. Today, each worker is doing the work that had been done by two.

Taken together, this labor system is what led to the toxic climate in which the murder took place last year. Rather than dealing with this underlying tension, management is sweeping it under the rug. Are workers angry? Of course they are! Working hard in the face of disrespect, while top bosses get rich off their labor, makes people angry.

The murder last year put the spotlight on hospital administration. Now management is taking the attention off them and putting it on Steward Evans.

Local 73: The only defense workers have

With management like this, workers need union stewards like Evans, a person who is not afraid to speak up.

Local 73 is defending Evans. The union has grieved the suspension, will file an unfair labor practice charge against UIC for targeting a steward for union activity and continue to fight managers who behave like this.

This is not a threat: this is a promise. Human Resources at UIC needs to learn the difference.

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