UI worker strike unlikely

By Matt Spartz

More than 15 sessions between the Service Employees International Union Local 73 Chapter 119 and the University “failed” with a federal mediator in early October, said Larry DuVall, SEIU chapter president. While another session is scheduled for Nov. 26, the union can take a three-day strike at any time.

But DuVall has not given up all hope.

“I have no intentions of initializing the strike until I see that communication has completely failed,” he said. “I do believe that possibly we can come to some more agreements.”

The union voted overwhelmingly in favor of a three-day intent-to-strike earlier in the semester. A few weeks later DuVall officially filed the union’s 10-day notice, as required by law, meaning it can now strike at any time.

Local 73 has been negotiating a new contract since the summer of 2006. Its members have been tentatively working under the old contract since then.

“There were too many gaps, and (the mediator) couldn’t bring us together,” DuVall said of the negotiating sessions.

Other issues the union wants to address are seniority and the contract differences for food service workers and building service workers, both of which the union represents.

Building service workers want to be assigned to work in buildings based on seniority.

“Seniority is the only option a building service worker has to advance,” DuVall said.

While the property tax increase approved at Tuesday’s Champaign City Council meeting may hit a homeowner’s wallet hard, it may hit these workers a bit harder.

One of the main bargaining issues is on wage increases; SEIU wants a 4 percent increase while the University is offering 2.5 percent.

With the Consumer Price Index rising 3.2 percent from 2005 to 2006, a raise of 2.5 percent will actually be a decrease in buying power.

“They won’t be able to purchase as much,” said J. Fred Giertz, professor of economics. “They will have a decline in their real income.”

The Consumer Price Index measures the change in what consumers pay for a group of goods and services, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. When the index goes up it takes more money to purchase the same goods or services.

“The money in the new contract would not be able to purchase as much,” Giertz said. “They wouldn’t be keeping up with inflation. They would be falling behind.”

Between 2002 and 2006, the average professor’s salary at the University rose 16 percent. Salaries for administrative positions rose 3.8 percent from 2006 to 2007, according to a report by The News-Gazette.

“We have to negotiate (salaries),” DuVall said. “Other individuals at the University get yearly salary increases.”

The number of administrators earning $200,000 a year or more rose by 40 people, the report also said.

“We’re asking for a measly old 4 percent,” DuVall said. “It’s pennies compared to what they gave all these (professors).”

University spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the University continues to believe in the collective bargaining process, but does not comment on the specifics of contract negotiating.