Service workers, backed by their union, SEIU Local 73, gathered yesterday at the corner of W Florida and S Lincoln in the heart of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to demand back pay in full for hundreds of building service workers (BSW), in addition to continued calls for increased COVID safety protocols and a meaningful response to the union’s bargaining proposals.
Workers recently celebrated a victory in closing the final gaps of inaccurate pay from the university, which occurred for nearly a year for many SEIU Local 73 members. However, they now face another challenge in ensuring the university gives hundreds of BSWs in the night shift full back pay.
The union members, which feature dining service employees and BSWs, picketed against the pay issue and more in blustery conditions, which they felt showcased how far they are willing to go to fight for workplace justice. “Even being cold, we show up in our purple and gold,” said Dena Gary, a dining service worker and member-president of the union. “Showing up today was important for us because it shows that we mean business. Without a contract that addresses our biggest concerns, we are not afraid to take matters into our own hands.”
Negotiations for both dining service and BSW contracts began in late 2021, but workers bargaining for the new contract are frustrated with the university’s slow, and in some cases non-existent, response. “First, it took them over 30 days to show up to the table after our request to bargain, breaking a previous contract agreement.,” said Michael Hill, a BSW at UIUC Facilities & Services. “Then after getting them to the table, they have yet to offer any wage proposals and have flatly rejected most of our non-economic proposals without any meaningful response on how we can get to a deal; it’s flat-out frustrating.”
At the picket, workers held signs calling the university to quit stalling negotiations and to value the hard work they’ve put in despite the uncompetitive wages and low staffing they’ve faced throughout the pandemic. “We are a critical pillar of this university, holding up the civil services needed to keep a school of this caliber on par with other universities,” said Mike Lindley, a BSW in Housing and Chapter 119 Sergeant-at-Arms. “But how can a university call itself prestigious when it can’t even treat its workers right, nor come to the table with proposals that show they value us not just as workers, but as human beings?”