Newly unionized UI employees protest

Newly unionized UI employees protest

URBANA — Veterinary technicians, medical lab workers and other recently unionized employees staged a second picket at the University of Illinois on Wednesday, protesting withheld raises and what they call substandard wages.

About 260 employees have been in negotiations with the university since last December after joining the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Locals 698 and 3700.

The two locals have contracts that run through August 2014, but these employees joined the union mid-contract during 2012, said AFSCME chief negotiator Tara McCauley,

"The issue is that the university is paying them substandard wages for the work they're performing," McCauley said.

Local 698 represents shopkeepers, mechanics, nurses and other employees in the trades and technical fields. Local 3700 represents clerical and professional employees, McCauley said.

The 260 affected workers include veterinary technicians, medical lab and radiography employees, customer service representatives, admissions and records representatives, Extension employees and others, the union said.

McCauley said the university recently notified AFSCME that it was suspending negotiations with Local 698 members.

"They said they felt we needed to take a break and that they had offered what they could," she said.

The UI offered the same campus wage increase that other employees received this year, 2.75 percent on average.

Most of the employees involved in negotiations haven't received that raise yet, or the 2.5 percent raises granted last summer if they had joined the union by that time, she said.

The university argues that the two sides are still negotiating the employees' base pay rates, to which any raises would be applied, McCauley said. But withholding the raises violates the union's contract, which stipulates that all union members will be provided with any general campus wage increase, McCauley said.

The union says the university should calculate the raises based on their current wages.

UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the two sides are still negotiating raises for union member who were added to the bargaining unit before the campus pay increase in August 2012. Those who were added after August 2012 received their annual pay raise last August, "and we are negotiating their increases for 2013-14 now," she said.

The union also represents clerical workers and animal caretakers at the College of Veterinary Medicine, who are paid more than veterinary technicians. The technicians are required to have an associate's degree and assist with surgeries and physical exams.

Veterinary technicians at other universities are "compensated at much higher rates," McCauley added. "It's an issue of fair pay for the work that they're performing."

Kaler has said the UI's research shows the veterinary technicians are "well above the market average" for comparable jobs in the community.

Vet tech salaries range from $14.55 to $28.52 per hour, according to Kaler. About 60 veterinary technicians work in the vet school's clinics and hospital, with laboratory animals on campus and at the school's vet center in Chicago.

Kaler said the UI is ready to resume talks with Local 698 as soon as it can schedule a session with a mediator.

"We will continue working to negotiate and reach fair settlements for both of these groups," she said.

McCauley said the goal of Wednesday's picket was to bring the matter to the attention of UI President Bob Easter.

"If this action does not convince the president to negotiate in good faith, we will be taking further actions," she said, though she ruled out a strike.

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