CHAMPAIGN — As the campus labor union strike moved toward its second day, managers at the University of Illinois have turned to non-union, extra-help employees to serve students hot meals, while members of other unions on campus, as a sign of support, have refused to cross picket lines.
Service Employees International Union Local 73, which represents about 775 building and food service workers on the Urbana campus, went on strike shortly after midnight Monday after members voted down the university's last offer. Negotiations dragged on for about eight months before the union overwhelmingly authorized a strike at the end of January.
Both sides have said they're willing to talk, but no new bargaining sessions had been scheduled as of Monday.
Instead of reporting to work to polish floors, deliver mail or prepare food, many workers spent their Monday shifts picketing outside dozens of buildings around campus. The strike is planned to last for three days.
"We thought three days was enough to demonstrate our seriousness. ... It gives them a taste of what a longer strike would look like," said Local 73 senior field organizer Ricky Baldwin.
Unions are allowed to picket "as long as it's peaceful, you do not create a disturbance or block people from coming and going," said campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler.
No scuffles were reported on Monday.
Meantime, university administrators have been calling in extra-help employees, who work for the university on an as-needed basis. Administrators also have asked academic professionals from different departments to lend a hand.
"We've had a few calls from employees who wanted to work but felt threatened by the union if they did," Kaler said.
Baldwin said there have been reports of a few building and food service workers crossing the picket lines and continuing to work despite the strike. He said the union's bylaws do allow the union to investigate those cases.
"It will be up to the executive board to decide what the penalty will be," he said for those who cross the picket lines.
Campus unions like the Graduate Employees' Organization and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees have voiced support for the SEIU strike by rallying with the workers. Members of building trade unions are not crossing the picket lines to work on building projects unless there is an emergency. The Campus Faculty Association, in addition to holding a food drive and taking up cash collections for building and food service workers, has urged faculty members to refrain from taking out their garbage and performing work that building service workers do.
"We feel very sorry that it has to come to this. But the university is sitting on a pile of unrestricted cash and they're telling workers a teeny tiny raise is not within their means," said UI Professor Susan Davis, spokeswoman for the Campus Faculty Association.
In addition to bargaining for better wages, SEIU members have expressed concerns about the university contracting out some of their work and they have accused the university of retaliatory discipline during negotiations. Baldwin said the union also is investigating some claims of employees being threatened with discipline Sunday evening before the strike.
On Monday, Associate Provost for Human Resources Elyne Cole sent a message to UI employees detailing the university's last offer to the union as well as reminding employees that those who choose not to work will not be paid. She said the university has not imposed any retaliatory discipline and hiring outside contractors is not being expanded and "is consistent with the terms of the collective bargaining agreements."
According to Cole's email, the UI's recent offer that SEIU voted down included a wage increase "in excess of 2.5 percent during the first year of the agreement" and guaranteed wage increases through 2015.
The three-year contract proposal called for building service workers to move from an entry rate of $12.47 an hour to $17.09 an hour after completing two years. Cooks have a current entry rate of $12.91 an hour and can move up to $14.79 an hour after two years and to $17.49 after four years.
The proposal called for wage rates to be increased by 50 cents per hour, retroactive to August 2012, in the first year; 30 cents per hour in the second year; and 25 cents per hour in the third year. Cole also wrote that members were guaranteed adjustments in the second and third years matching the campus salary plans if the campus wage increases exceeded the negotiated raises.
Raises under the campus wage program can vary annually. In fall 2012, the average was 2.5 percent, and in 2011 it was 3 percent. However, it was zero in the preceding two years.
Since the strike began, Baldwin said, union members "feel stronger now, not weaker."
"We'll meet with (the university) any time. If they have an offer, we'll seriously consider it. But it has to be better than the one members rejected over the weekend," he said.