University employees demand increased wages

By Maggie Sullivan

Joyce Snider smiled as she held a poster brandishing the words “We Deserve Respect.” Snider has been a University employee in civil engineering department for 30 years.

“What do we want? Contract! When do we want it? Now! What do we want? Fair wages! Respect!” Snider chanted, still smiling.

Snider was one of many University employees gathered at the University YMCA Wednesday to ask the University what they consider to be a living wage. The employees present were part of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

“Part of the University’s mission is to lift Illinois residents out of poverty,” said Dave Beck, a staff representative of the union’s council. “The irony that the University’s employees are forced to live in poverty is lost on the administration.”

Beck said the starting pay for a childcare assistant is as low as $9.40. The average hourly wage for an employee in the University of Illinois Extension program, which offers health and food-based education to Illinois communities, is $11.15 per hour, according to a fact sheet from the American Federation of State and County Municipal Employees.

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Staci Sessler, a University Extension employee, spoke about her personal struggle to earn a living wage.

“I love my job,” Sessler said. “But I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that we community workers are paid so little that we still qualify ourselves for public assistance.”

While she loves her job, Sessler does not love being a full-time University employee and still falling below the poverty line. She said she is lucky her three daughters qualify for free lunches; otherwise she would not be able to feed them.

Joanna Justice, an office support associate, said she was not as lucky as Sessler to qualify for public assistance.

Justice said she applied for utility assistance but was denied because she works at the University. As a University alumna, she said she is grateful for the University and her job, but she needs to be respected and get the pay she deserves.

“It frustrates me to no end to hear about bonuses and deals for higher-up people who probably don’t know that I exist,” Justice said.

Beck said Wal-Mart has also been criticized for underpaying its employees — many of whom qualify for public assistance — and he believes institutions of higher learning should do better.

“We call on U. of I. to realign its priorities and fulfill its mission of providing a living wage to employees,” Beck said.

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