Fight Back! News

News and Views from the People's Struggle

UIC told: You don’t value the lives of workers, and the lives of Black, Latino workers even less.

By staff

Joe Iosbaker

UIC told: You don’t value the lives of workers, and the lives of Black, Latino workers even less.

Fight Back News Service is circulating the testimony of Joe Iosbaker to the September 10 University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Board of Trustees meeting. University of Chicago workers are preparing a major strike for safety, respect and wages.

I’m Joe Iosbaker, 30-year civil service employee at UIC

Juan Martinez was a surgical technologist in our hospital. He was my friend. He was a leader in his department, which is why his co-workers put him forward to be on the first Technical bargaining committee when they joined Local 73 in the early 2000s.

Juan died on April 27 from COVID-19.

Why did Juan and another SEIU Local 73 member die at UIC? Why did so many other members of Local 73 here get sick? I personally know of at least four who were on respirators, at least one who flatlined and had to be brought back, and at least four who are now in physical therapy to learn how to walk or talk again.

Why didn’t UIC management act earlier to protect its employees? Dr. Howard Ehrman of SPH wrote to the administration through the Academy listserv on February 27 to warn that the virus was going to spread dramatically, and yet management dragged their feet for two more weeks before moving to remote classes, and weeks more went by before they enacted inadequate measures to protect employees. In those weeks, management told Local 73 and members in the hospital not to wear masks because “it was a bad look.”

Why didn’t they protect us? Part of the answer is profit. Management uses profits for top administrative and administrative salaries. For example, the dean of the college of medicine makes almost $800,000 a year. Management also uses their profits to set aside monies for the new surgical center and other investments. They didn’t want to disrupt business. And they’re still doing that.

But it was also racism. UIC has a 50 year long history of discrimination against Black and Latino workers, students, and faculty.

As a member of the Local 73 clerical bargaining committee in the 1990s, one of the big issues for our members was the disparity in pay between UIC and UIUC [University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign] civil service workers with the same titles. In 1998, when we brought the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus – including Barack Obama, then state senator from Hyde Park – to campus for hearings on discriminatory practices, we finally compelled management to address the issue. Assistant Chancellor in Labor and Employee Relations, Judson Mitchell, admitted across the table the reason that UIC workers were making an average of $1 or $2 an hour less than Urbana. He said it was the labor market. In other words, there were more people willing to work for less in Chicago when UIC was opened in 1965.

Of course, the reason that there were so many here willing to take less pay was the shadow of the plantation. The Great Migration brought 250,000 Black people to Chicago from the South over 50 years. Because of the system of Jim Crow disenfranchisement, or apartheid, many of them arrived penniless. The administration took advantage of this when they hired perhaps 1000 Black workers, starting them off well below the white workforce in Urbana Champaign, and this wage scale stayed in place until Local 73 grew strong enough to win the Urbana pay grades for all. By the way, management refused to consider any back pay for the years of discrimination.

Most of my co-workers are Black and Latino. You’re not fooling anyone. We see who you are. You don’t value the lives of workers, and the lives of Black and Latino workers you value even less.

#ChicagoIL #SEIULocal73 #Antiracism #COVID19 #JuanMartinez #UniversityOfIllinoisAtUrbanaChampaign