Updated: About 800 UI workers on strike
Update at 8:49 a.m. Monday
URBANA — Members of the SEIU Local 73 at the University of Illinois are on strike Monday after they rejected the school’s latest contract offer on Sunday afternoon.
Service Employees International Union Local 73, which represents close to 800 building and food service workers on the Urbana campus, has been negotiating with the university since last summer, and the two sides brought in a federal mediator in December.
The workers clean classrooms, labs and dorm rooms; take out the trash; clean bathrooms; prepare food in university dining halls; cater special events; and deliver campus mail, among other tasks, said union spokesman Ricky Baldwin.
“It means there’s a lot of stuff that’s not going to get done” on Monday, he said.
In the meantime, university spokeswoman Robin Kaler said other employees will need to cover some of those tasks, like serving food in student dining halls.
“We have prioritized all the essential services, and we’ll just be moving people around to maintain those,” Kaler said.
Wages have been one focal point during negotiations, Baldwin said.
“Wages are always an issue,” he said. “The university is pretending that they don’t have money. But at the same time, the operating budget continues to go up every year, top administrators are getting raises.”
Baldwin also claims that the university has contracted out too much work that should go to union employees. He said other concerns — even if they are not specifically addressed at the negotiating table — focus on how members feel they are being treated at work.
“Members feel that they’re getting disrespect in the workplace,” Baldwin said. “They get tired of it.”
Kaler disputed those claims on Sunday and said university officials have offered what the school can afford.
“We think we’ve offered a fair contract that’s within the means of the university,” Kaler said.
Baldwin said the union plans to strike for three days and “we’ll see how it goes from there.”
Kaler said university officials are prepared to continue negotiating with the union.
“We’ll go however long we need to go,” Kaler said.
SEIU Local 73 Vice President Aaron Ammons said union members will be able to get along without wages during the strike.
The union “will be compensating the members who come out and spend a certain amount of time on the picket line,” Ammons said. “The other part of it is the willingness of the union members to make that sacrifice.”
The Campus Faculty Association has been holding a food drive and fundraiser for SEIU’s members this week, and they will continue to do that, Ammons said.
He said the union has spent a lot of time recently preparing students for the coming strike so they know what to expect when SEIU members do not show up to work.
“We have done extensive work and education campaigns and visibility campaigns on campus to alert the students to what’s looming,” Ammons said.