Union members approve new contract with UI

Union members approve new contract with UI

URBANA – Nearly 14 months after their last labor contract expired, members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 698 approved a new agreement with the University of Illinois.

The contract calls for raises of about 2.5 percent and wage adjustments for several different categories of workers at the UI.

"Our members have the sense they got this contract themselves, by their willingness to come out to rallies, to keep coming out, to do the letter writing and get other people involved. They never once said, 'Let's just take what we can get,'" said Margaret Lewis, the union's vice president and spokeswoman.

Throughout the summer and this fall, the union joined with other labor unions on campus and held numerous rallies and pickets on campus. The two negotiating teams started meeting with a federal mediator this summer after reaching a standstill.

In May, the university had proposed a raise of 1.5 percentage points below the amount of the campus wage program, meaning if the across-the-board campus wage raise is 3 percent, AFSCME 698 members would get a 1.5 percent raise. The union rejected that offer.

The UI's final contract offer, approved by the union Wednesday night, was for a 2.5 percent raise for the first year of the union's contract. This included back pay to Aug. 28, 2005, the day after the union's last contract expired. The UI also offered a 2.5 percent raise effective Oct. 8, 2006, and a 2.5 percent raise effective effective Dec. 2, 2007, or a raise in the amount of the UI's campus wage program, whichever is higher.

The contract also calls for increasing wages for some positions to bring pay in line with those of similar positions in the region.

According to the proposal, the auto parts manager and radiographer number 2 would receive 6 percent raises. The theatrical stitchers would receive 6 percent to 10.7 percent adjustments.

AFSCME had requested salary adjustments for crash rescue specialists or telephone operators, but pay adjustments for those positions were not part of the UI's final offer.

The union declined to reveal the vote totals from Wednesday night's meeting at the Urbana Civic Center or how many members voted. Lewis did say the turnout was the largest in recent years.

"People were really ready to vote. They got the information ahead of time and knew the details," Lewis said.

The union represents about 400 UI employees from a variety of different departments and units, including nurses, laboratory assistants, library technicians and crash rescue specialists.

"These employees work very hard for the university, and we're grateful for their contributions," said UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler. "Our goal was to create the best overall package possible for these employees within the resources available. We feel this agreement achieves that, and we're glad to see that union members feel that way, too," she added.

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