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Balance Budget on Workers' Backs? Clerical Workers Say No!

By Joe Iosbaker

union members marching

Chicago, IL – Music and chanting rose outside the Illini Union building on the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), May 15, as 100 workers, students, and supporters marched on the Board of Trustees meeting.

The target was the high salaries paid to administrators and a handful of faculty. These rich “rock stars” were serenaded by the members of Local 73 Service Employees International Union, including Willie English and chief steward Judy Jones, to the tune of Elvis Presley's “Hound Dog”:

You ain't nothing but a rich man

Crying all the time

You ain't nothing but a rich man

Crying all the time

You ain't never froze your wages

You ain't no friend of mine!

Job Cuts and Wage Freezes

The coalition of groups is angry because the state has a budget crisis, and the politicians, along with University administrators, are aiming to shift the crisis onto the backs of working people. According to Shirley McIntosh, Local 73 steward, who came along with 18 coworkers from the Patient Accounts department, “We have been working harder than ever in recent years as budgets have gotten tighter. It's not right for us to face losing our jobs and having our wages frozen.”

But that's exactly what is coming down on workers, faculty and graduate employees. University of Illinois President James Stukel has stated that 600 jobs will be cut from the three campuses. At the UIC Medical Center, job cuts have already started. “We're 18 admitting officers, and they're only going to have 6. It'll be tough for those left,” said Naomi Colon, whose position was eliminated in the Dental Clinics.

Eighteen more positions were reported cut in Psychiatry. In April, nearly 20 adjunct professors in the English Department lost their jobs as well. The unofficial word on wages is that workers should expect no raises for 2 years.

Finally, at the Board of Trustees meeting, a 10% tuition increase was passed.

Why is Money So Tight?

If you ask Governor Ryan, he'll say it's because of Sept. 11. If you look at the business pages, you'll read that there is less taxes being collected because there is a slowdown in the economy overall.

No one is telling the real truth: in the state of Illinois, even more than most states in the U.S., rich people and corporations pay almost no taxes.

The state has expenses – such as helping fund health care for the poor, educating our children, and paying the wages of the workers in state agencies. There is only one way to make up the difference now that less taxes are being collected. Those who have been raking it in over these years should have to cough it up.

Wins and Losses in the Budget Fight

5000 workers rallied at the state capitol on April 24. They told the politicians not to balance the budget by attacks on workers. They called for more taxes on the rich, like the tax on the estates that multi-millionaires leave to their children when they die.

Greg Hardison, a UIC union steward, said it best at the Local meeting before the Springfield rally – “Make the rich pay!” Local 73 President Christine Boardman, at the rally, echoed this message, and the crowd roared back its approval.

The fight by unions and community forces was partially successful. The legislators and the governor had to restore some of the cuts proposed earlier this year, and the rich took a $200 million hit. But the bulk of the billion-dollar budget shortfall will be at the expense of working people and the poor.

Struggle for Fairness and Equality

The battle lines are being drawn at UIC. At the May 15 rally, Rodney Telomen, Illinois Nurses Association co-chair said, “We've already informed the hospital directors: if they tell nurses to expect a wage freeze when we go to bargain, I predict we'll take a strike vote.” Both nurses and clericals have contracts that expire in August.

Local 73 members have a message for the bosses as well. “When jobs are cut, workers have more work to do. Plus, patients suffer,” said Tom Terranova, Local 73 staff representative. “That's why we said the only place to cut in UIC's budget is the top administrators' salaries.”

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