Union, UI to meet next week
CHAMPAIGN — Following a three-day strike, members of a campus labor union are expected to meet with University of Illinois officials early next week to resume negotiations.
Building and food service workers at the university returned to work early Thursday morning after picketing in front of buildings around campus since Monday and holding a large rally outside the Illini Union on Wednesday.
Over the three days, the university brought in extra help and urged academic professionals to pitch in by cooking and serving hot meals to students, taking out garbage and performing other duties. Many campus unions, such as the Teamsters, refused to cross picket lines and garbage did pile up in some Dumpsters across campus.
"I think a very clear message was sent: This is what a three-day strike was like and you can only imagine what it would be like if it was longer," said Aaron Ammons, a UI building service worker and vice president of the Service Employees International Union Local 73.
Workers went on strike at 12:01 a.m. Monday after the union, which represents about 775 building and food service workers and mail carriers on campus, voted down the university's most recent contract offer. Negotiations have been going on since last June, the contract expired in mid-July and a federal mediator joined the meetings in December. The last bargaining session was on March 7.
The union and university, along with the mediator, will next meet Monday and Tuesday.
Campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said staff were able to manage operations during the strike.
"Dining services were open all hours they were normally open and they served the full menu. Things that were supposed to be cold were cold and things that were supposed to be hot were hot," she said.
Restrooms in residence halls were cleaned at least once a day, she said. Employees who did come in to work were assigned to essential areas like Nugent Hall where students with disabilities live.
"We kept the toilet paper and paper towels refilled as quickly as possible," she said, however, there were some reports of plugged toilets and sinks.
One issue that surfaced later in the strike was garbage piling up in exterior garbage cans because union truck drivers did not want to cross picket lines.
"What we felt was crucially important during the strike was union solidarity and the message it sent not only to the university but to the country," Ammons said.
"The working class will not be divided. We stand together," he said, adding that members were grateful to other union members who were willing to take a financial sacrifice to stand by SEIU.
Of the approximately 775 workers, Ammons estimated about 15 to 17 employees decided to cross the lines and continue working. The union's bylaws allow the union to investigate those cases and its executive board can decide if it wants to levy penalties against those who cross picket lines.
UI police responded to a few calls about blocked entrances and officers informed picketers about their rights to picket but not restrict access. Union members complied, Kaler said.
Throughout negotiations, SEIU members have expressed concerns about better wages, the university contracting out some of their work, and they have accused the university of retaliatory discipline during negotiations, which the university denies.
The most recent offer from the university included a wage increase in excess of 2.5 percent during the first year of the agreement and guaranteed wage increases through 2015, according to the university.
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 also 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. Members were guaranteed adjustments in the second and third years matching the campus salary plans if the campus wage increases exceeded the negotiated raises, according to the university. 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.