Fight Back! News

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UIC workers demand fair contract

By Joe Iosbaker

Women with SEIU picket signs

Chicago, IL – Demetris McKinley, a customer service representative, came to work on Thursday, Aug. 16, even though it was a vacation day for her. She came to work to picket.

On Tuesday, Wednesday and then Thursday of that week, over 300 clerical and administrative workers at the University of Illinois – Chicago, members of Local 73 SEIU (Service Employees International Union), had picketed for a new contract. These workers are starting a second year without a contract, and that means a second year without a raise.

Picket signs read, “Fair contract now,” and “UIC get back to the table.” But the picketers, who were mostly Black women and Latinas, also felt discrimination. “I strongly believe that if this department was made up of whites and had even a small percentage of white males that we would not be going through this,” Demetris wrote later in an email to another union activist.

She went on to say, “… and we would not be working in this rundown building either. We are being taken advantage of.”

“They Say Give-Back, We Say Fight Back!”

Local 73 has other issues on the table. For example, stopping the erosion of unionized civil service jobs. Over the past five years, 500 of these jobs have disappeared, replaced by ‘academic professionals,’ a fancy sounding title which means employees with a college degree. These workers then have no job security and can be dismissed when a department has a tight budget.

The state budget has been squeezed by reduced revenues since 2001, and a budget for the current fiscal year still has not been adopted in Springfield, the state capital. However, workers know that UIC has been making record profits in the medical center, as a landlord and from research grants. The top administrators and physicians have seen their salaries grow. Union workers refuse to be left behind.

Also, UIC workers are still bitter that, for 35 years, they have been paid less than the mostly white workers at the downstate Urbana campus. UIC was built in the 1960s, and the Board of Trustees adopted a pay structure for the mostly Black workers at that time that was $1 or $2 less per hour. This continued until Local 73 became strong enough to force the university to grant parity in wages. This was only achieved for most workers in 2002. Food service workers only achieved wage parity this year.

This is in part why workers at the University of Illinois – Chicago are so determined to reject UIC’s proposal for wages that don’t keep up with the cost of living. “We fought long and hard to get here. We are not going backward,” said Local 73 executive board member, Sirlena Perry, a UIC secretary.

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