UI service workers call for wage hike

UI service workers call for wage hike

CHAMPAIGN — Cooks, janitors and other service workers who have been negotiating for months with the University of Illinois picketed outside the UI's Physical Plant on Friday.

The UI's four-year contract with Service Employees International Union Local 119, which represents about 750 building service workers and food service workers, expired at the end of July.

The two sides have been in contract talks since last spring but are stuck on several economic items, spokesman Ricky Baldwin said.

The UI has yet to respond to the union's recent wage proposal for food service workers, Baldwin said. Campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler said the UI will respond at the next bargaining session on Thursday. She said the union hasn't submitted a wage proposal for the food service workers, who are scheduled to meet with UI negotiators again on Tuesday.

Baldwin said employees need a wage increase to offset health insurance changes proposed earlier this year by Gov. Bruce Rauner. Though not final, the proposals could double employees' health insurance premiums, costing them $1,000 to $5,000 a year, Baldwin said. For union members making $17,000 to $32,000 a year, that would amount to a "devastating" pay cut, he said.

Baldwin said the wage proposal can be flexible, depending on what happens with health insurance rates.

Baldwin acknowledged the financial squeeze on the UI from the state's budget stalemate, which has prompted millions of dollars in campus spending cuts.

He said the state should meet its obligations to the university. But he also noted that the UI's overall budget has continued to increase — from tuition and other income — even as state funding has declined over the past decade.

Baldwin and union President Aaron Ammons complained that the university's priorities are "completely upside down," citing the growth in administrative salaries in recent years.

"We think they have the money; they're just not prioritizing it correctly," Baldwin said.

Baldwin said the union also objects to other proposals by the UI that would:

— Waive the union's right to negotiate changes in wages or working conditions during the life of the contract.

— Allow employees to work more than eight hours in a day without being paid overtime as long as they don't work more than 40 hours during the week.

— Remove the union's right to negotiate parking fees.

— Remove language that prevents union work from being contracted out or given to student or temporary workers.

Kaler said the overtime change is intended to mirror federal policy. Regarding temporary and student workers, she said, "We're trying to maintain as much flexibility as we can in how to deliver services."

"These are challenging budget times in the state of Illinois, but we continue to work toward contracts that are fair to all affected parties, including our students and the taxpayers of Illinois. We have been working in good faith with these two groups since March and we will continue to do so."

Baldwin said the two units have been fortunate to avoid permanent layoffs, but members feel they are "severely understaffed," with numbers declining through attrition after people retire or go on disability. He estimated that they've lost about 100 members over the past five years, he said.

"Some residence halls are operating with half the staff they once had," he said.

The employees clean buildings, prepare and service food in residence halls, wax floors, move furniture and heavy equipment, set up chairs for events, deliver mail and work as maids at the Illini Union.

About 40 union members marched in a light drizzle late Friday afternoon demanding fair wages.

The union's last contract was settled after a three-day strike in March 2013. The union has requested a mediator this year, but the UI refused, Baldwin said.

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ddf1972 wrote on October 01, 2016 at 8:10 am

As a alum of the university I expect these employees to be able to make a living wage. $17,000 a year (assuming it is full-time and the employee has no other income) is not acceptable.