CHAMPAIGN — After eight months of bargaining and no agreement to show for it, members of a local union are one step closer to a strike.
The Service Employees International Union Local 73, which represents close to 800 building and food service workers at the University of Illinois, has approved a strike authorization, a move that gives a union committee power to call a strike.
"Folks are eager to make it clear to management that we're serious," said Aaron Ammons, a building service worker at the UI.
With a vote approving a strike authorization, the union's bargaining committee now has the authority to issue a 10-day strike notice to the university, "and then anytime after that we could go on strike if we so choose," Ammons said.
Approval of a strike authorization does not mean a strike is imminent. An agreement between the UI and union still could happen. SEIU last authorized a strike in 2011 after negotiations dragged on for months, but an agreement was eventually reached. Late last year, the Graduate Employees' Organization also approved a strike but ended up coming to an agreement with the university not long after the strike vote.
Ninety-one percent of SEIU members approved the measure, said SEIU Local 73 field organizer Ricky Baldwin. He declined to say how many people voted, but members were lining up to vote on Thursday and Friday, he said.
"It was excellent turnout," Baldwin said.
SEIU's next bargaining session with the university is scheduled for Feb. 12.
"We continue to negotiate to resolve the issues," said university spokeswoman Robin Kaler on Friday evening. "If we work together, we are confident we can reach an agreement."
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.
"We're certainly open to a decent proposal on wages," Ammons said.
Wages continue to be a main issue for the union, which is seeking, among other proposals, an increase in the shift differential for those working night shift from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., Ammons said. The current differential is 20 cents per hour, and the union is seeking a higher rate. Employees who work the 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. shift and 4 a.m. to 12 p.m. do not currently receive a shift differential, and the union wants those workers to receive it, he said.
Another sticking point, Baldwin and Ammons said, is the university's proposal to peg its members' 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.
Union members are opposed to the uncertainty that can come with being tied to the program, Baldwin said.