Unions rally for raises, benefits

By Kiran Sood

Members of the Central Illinois Jobs with Justice chapter hosted a rally at the Alma Mater to discuss issues concerning University union workers Tuesday afternoon. Issues included living wages, decent health care coverage and employee benefits.

The protest began at the Hallene Gateway, continued to the Main Library, the Swanlund Administration building and ended at the Alma Mater.

Protestors marched through campus with signs reading, “We will strike for equity and fairness” and “I deserve a fair raise.”

Gene Vanderport, member of the Illinois Education Association, said the intent is to give the University a message. He said important goals of the program include pension issues, retroactive pay and working together at the same time.

“This morning, President White spoke about respect. He said that the most important thing for workers is respect,” said Chris Simeone, a negotiator present at the Rally for Local Workers and graduate student. “Being respected is a start. It is about respect when it comes to payday, well-being as employees and, most importantly, respect at the bargaining table.”

Simeone said the workers are demanding decent health care and living wages.

Phil Martini, a Union Representative and member of the Service Employees International Union, was an organizer of Tuesday’s rally. He said the negotiations currently under way with the University are not going well.

Martini said the University is denying the union “retroactive pay, and refusing bargains in parking, and health care.”

Germaine Light, member of the Illinois Education Association, said the people represented here are not just limited to the University, but include community members, churches, and politicians as well.

“We are fighting for employees everywhere,” Light said. “We want good health care and pay for all employees.”

Jobs with Justice is a national organization with a branch in Chicago, Light said, and their protests are not limited to the University. Light and other members of the organization were on hand at the opening of the new Hilton Garden Inn, 1501 S. Neil St., and have protested the non-union labor at Wal-Mart Supercenter, 2610 N. Prospect Ave., before.

The University Unions United were sponsored by Central Illinois Jobs with Justice, a chapter of the National Jobs for Justice in central Illinois. The members of the Central Illinois Jobs with Justice present at the rally were the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, The Illinois Education Association, the Graduate Employees’ Organization, the Service Employees International Union.

Victor Osuna, chief negotiator of the Municipal Employees, said the unions have been in negotiations with the University for a year now. They have still not reached a contract agreement, he said.

He said the reason the unions chose to march today was to make their presence known.

“We are not going to be divided, and this is going to be an interesting process,” Asuna said.

Robin Kaler, University’s associate chancellor for public affairs, said the school is working on the contracts, and she said that she recognizes the union’s rights to organize and protest.

“We are doing everything we can to come up with a fair and equitable contract that is within the boundaries of what we can afford,” she said.

Howard Berenbaum, member of the Union of Professional Employees and professor of psychology, said his goal is to negotiate in good faith with the University and support the unions. Carol Pruett, employee of Krannert Center for the Performing Arts and member of the International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees, a labor union representing technicians, artisans and crafts persons in the entertainment industry, said there has been much difficulty reaching an agreement with the University. She said that she and her co-workers are among the lowest paid University employees.

Pruett said there has been difficulty reaching an agreement and a federal negotiator has been called.

Nancy Coddington, fellow Krannert employee, emphasized that the most important thing is a fair contract. She joined the protests when they began in late spring. She said the contract negotiations have not gone well, thus far.

“We are fighting for fairness and pay,” Coddington said.