On Thursday, November 17, union workers gathered at the University of Illinois System Board of Trustees meeting held at the University of Illinois-Chicago to demand school leaders focus on safe campus and hospital settings, quality education, and healthcare. Represented by their unions, including UIC United Faculty, the Committee of Interns and Residents, the UIC Graduate Employees Organization and SEIU Local 73, the workers rallied together to call upon UIC to do the right thing for their employees and the communities they serve.
Resident and fellow physicians at the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC), represented by the Committee of Interns and Residents – SEIU, have been bargaining their first contract for more than six months, yet there’s been little movement from the hospital administration.
“We are out here because we deserve better.” said Dr. Suraj Nagaraj, an internal medicine resident. “Our patients deserve the best care, but that can feel impossible when you’re working 80-hour weeks and struggling to pay rent, or when we have to ration food because of your budget. UIC needs to come to the table with a fair contract, so we can care for our patients without burning out.”
Earlier this week, UIC United Faculty approved a strike authorization with 96% “yes” votes, after having been at the bargaining table since April and recently entered third party mediation with university management. Compensation, job security, and clear workload policies are all still on the table, in addition to new proposals regarding UIC student access to mental health care and learning support. “Faculty workloads grew exponentially during COVID, and for many that increase remains,” stated Aaron Krall, UICUF president. “Examinations of the university budget indicate a healthy bottom line–so why are students still struggling to access resources and faculty not being paid fairly?”
Meanwhile, SEIU Local 73 members at UIC are fighting a push by management to privatize key positions. “SEIU Local 73 custodial staff stood on the front lines during the height of COVID for the communities UI Health and UIC serve,” says Marcia Hargrove, Building Service Worker. “But instead of spending their money on paying higher wages to incentivize better staffing, the university is considering paying outside companies.”
According to Local 73, these companies threaten the cleanliness on campus because they cut corners, putting profit over the needs of the community and worsening care in the process. Outsourcing hospital cleaning services is linked to higher rates of patient healthcare-associated infections–one of the leading causes of death in the US, states the National Library of Medicine.
Alongside their fellow unions, the Graduate Employees Organization stated it is in solidarity with faculty, staff, and healthcare professional worker colleagues. The GEO knows unions keep UIC and communities strong. As such, the GEO is also working to unionize research assistants (RAs) at UIC, who currently don’t have a union. This means that they didn’t receive the $2000 back pay after GEO’s last strike, nor are they guaranteed any of the several basic protections and working rights that Teaching and Graduate Assistants have, like paid parental leave and sick time. Every worker, regardless of type of employment, deserves to have these basic needs met, believes GEO.