Union demands board attention

Willie English, a Service Employees International Union Local 73 representative, yells through a megaphone outside the University of Illinois-Springfield Public Affairs Center, Wednesday. Erica Magda

Willie English, a Service Employees International Union Local 73 representative, yells through a megaphone outside the University of Illinois-Springfield Public Affairs Center, Wednesday. Erica Magda

By Sky Opila

SPRINGFIELD – Supporters for Service Employees International Union Local 73 made their presence known at the Board of Trustees meeting in the Public Affairs Center at the University’s Springfield campus Wednesday morning.

The group of 22 demonstrators travelled from Chicago to get the board’s attention in hopes of renewing its contract at the University of Illinois at Chicago campus. Although the workers are in collaboration with Chapter 119, which represents the facilities and services and food service workers on the Urbana-Champaign campus, their presence was geared toward renewing a contract with roughly 2,000 administrative, clerical and technical workers on the UIC campus.

“We want to get the Board of Trustees’ attention, so that they would get UIC to come back to the table and negotiate with us,” said Willie English, Local 73 union representative. “We’re here just as a presence to let the Board of Trustees know that SEIU Local 73 is someone to be reckoned with. We’re not going to just lay down and die.”

The presence of the union members did not fall on deaf ears.


photo DI multimedia



Local 73 demands a contract

Click to view an audio slideshow of the protest.

“It was definitely audible,” said University President B. Joseph White.

The issues raised by this portion of the union are very similar to the requests of Urbana-Champaign’s Chapter 119. Both union chapters are requesting wage increases that are reflective of increases in inflation. However, both portions of the union are seeking more than just a wage increase through their contract negotiations.

“It’s not all about the money, it’s about being treated fair,” English said.

The union’s Local 73 Chapter 119 has been in contract negotiations with the University since the summer of 2006. In that time, it has worked with a federal mediator to try and solve the dispute about contract specifics and, earlier this semester, it overwhelmingly voted in favor of striking and filed its intent to strike, which could still be enacted at any time. The local union will be negotiating again with the University on Nov. 26.

At UIC, the union’s contract for clerical and administrative workers expired in August 2006 while the technical workers’ contract expired in December 2006. In a letter sent to UIC Chancellor Sylvia Manning on Oct. 12, 35 faculty members from the Chicago campus asked the chancellor to give the union a new contract as soon as possible.

“It is our understanding that these workers have been without a contract since 2005,” the letter stated. “They deserve job security, a contract and fair compensation.”

The letter brought attention to the dispute on the Chicago campus and prompted involvement and support from several different groups on UIC’s campus, including Students for a Democratic Society and the Graduate Employees Organization.

“This letter prompted me to do some research into the history of inequality at UIC: Two things that don’t belong in the same sentence, but unfortunately have and continue to do so,” said Sussan Navabi, junior at UIC and member of Students for a Democratic Society, during the public comment period at Wednesday’s board meeting. “This is unacceptable treatment of workers who have struggled for years for equal pay and continue to serve the university community well.”

On Wednesday, while representatives from the union were in Springfield, other union members and UIC negotiators met in Chicago to discuss a contract. Jeff Dexter, division director of higher education for the union, said the proposed contract from UIC did not measure up to the organization’s hopes.

“Their offer unfortunately fell short of what we need to do to get this contract settled,” Dexter said. “The issues that were framed, we think, were not enough to bring this to a settlement.”

R. Michael Tanner, UIC provost, said he is unclear on the intentions of the union.

“It’s not clear if they’re eager to bring this to a resolution,” Tanner said, adding that he is hoping to settle the issue.

Local 73 and UIC will be meeting again on Tuesday, where Dexter said the union plans to give the university a response.

English said the union is going to get the contracts done, both in Urbana-Champaign and in Chicago.

“We want things to not just be stagnated but to move from this point on,” English said.