Service workers at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, backed by their union, SEIU Local 73, gathered at the university chancellor’s office on Thursday, December 9, to protest the school’s handling of staffing and inaccurate pay. The workers had previously gathered on campus in November in order to get the University to correct many of these issues, which has yet to be done.
The workers are frustrated with the University’s continued inaction toward an issue that workers feel should have been a quick fix: accurate paychecks. “We’ve been trying to get our correct pay for months now,” says Dena Gary, Culinary Worker and SEIU Local 73 Chapter President at UIUC. “Why can’t they even get our pay right? That’s their job! I have to do my job right or I’ll get disciplined. Where’s the same accountability for them?”
Service workers are also frustrated with the inadequate staffing levels provided by the University. Gary states, “We need proper staffing. The University has already closed two dining halls because they didn’t have enough people, and those of us who are able to come to work are having to break our backs to get the extra work done.” Workers state that this not only impacts their day-to-day, but also negatively impacts the student body, who look toward the workers for important needs like food.
Building service workers (BSWs) have similar staffing complaints and pay issues. “We’re out here to demand respect for the work we do, the risks that we take to our health, especially in a pandemic. The University of Illinois calls us ‘essential’ workers, but nickels and dimes us in negotiations, Then they expect our stagnant, if not dwindling, numbers of staff to maintain an ever-expanding campus. To make it even worse, we have the right to choose assignments through bidding, and department management is stalling even after human resources indicated management would have to honor our agreement. Morale could not be lower,” says Justus Fortado, Building Service Worker, Chapter Vice President and Chief Steward.
What disappoints the service workers the most is that these issues aren’t new. Four years ago, also during contract negotiations, BSWs had the same problems, which took several months of complaints to get resolved. “Imagine if I messed up my job as bad as the university has and couldn’t get it done for months — and then did it again,” continued Fortado.
The pay and staffing issues come on top of mounting frustrations over exposure to COVID, inflation over 5% and wage compression, and the fact that minimum wage is catching up to union wages, which have been relatively stagnant. “If they’re having trouble hiring people, they need to raise the pay,” pointed out Gary.
Negotiations for both dining service and BSW contracts began November 28 after two months of demands from the union to get started. The Union’s agreement with the University requires that negotiations begin after 30 days following the initial demand to bargain. Union negotiators say it is unusual for such a provision to be ignored.