A local union plans to picket on campus next week in the wake of prolonged negotiations with the University of Illinois and in advance of a strike-authorization vote planned for later this month.
Members of the Service Employees International Union Local and its supporters plan to rally outside the UI's physical plant at the corner of Kirby Avenue and Oak Street in Champaign for much of the day on Wednesday.
Frustration has been mounting among members of the union, which has been negotiating with the university since June 2012. The two sides brought in a federal mediator in December. Recently, some union members have been circulating a petition calling for a strike-authorization vote. A formal vote will be held on Jan. 24-25.
"The vote would authorize the bargaining committee to call a strike if that's necessary," said Local 73 field organizer Ricky Baldwin. He said the union will bring information about the strike vote to the bargaining table "in the hopes of reaching an agreement."
If a majority of members vote yes, the bargaining committee will be authorized to give 10 days' notice and call a strike at any time.
The union's next meeting with the UI is scheduled for Jan. 17.
"Hopefully we'll be able to make some progress," Baldwin said.
SEIU Local 73 represents two bargaining units at the UI: building service workers, who perform jobs such as taking out garbage and cleaning floors, and food service workers.
If the strike vote occurs, "the university will make arrangements if that becomes a reality," said campus spokeswoman Robin Kaler.
"The frustration has been building up based on a couple of factors," said Baldwin, who cited the potential for mail carriers to lose five of their holidays, an uptick in members noticing some flooring and moving work being outsourced to outside venders and the possibility of the union moving to the campus wage program.
The university has proposed pegging union raises to the campus wage program, which can vary annually. Campus wage program raises, given in early fall, averaged 2.5 percent in fall 2012, 3 percent in fall 2011, but were zero in the preceding two years.
Baldwin said the campus wage program can vary a lot and one of the most important things for members is to know they will at least get a certain amount instead of "having no idea what you will get."
The union claims the university has continued to hire firms to perform work, such as cleaning floors and moving, for work its members should do. The union filed an unfair labor charge over the flooring-labor issue previously and filed a new one last fall regarding several instances of moving and flooring work being outsourced.
Kaler said the university learned of one instance where flooring work was outsourced and worked with the unit to correct it.
"We have procedures in place to address situations when units do not follow the directive," she said.
In 2011, the campus issued a directive to managers informing them that floor-maintenance requests be handled through Facilities & Services, or F&S, if that work has traditionally done by F&S, Kaler said. She said the university's contract with SEIU allows the campus to hire outside firms occasionally for moving jobs "and we do sometimes."