For UIC workers, the fight against privatization has been a long struggle. With the approval of the Board of Trustees, UIC has been outsourcing food service and some building service positions to private companies. Budget season is upon us, meaning the Board of Trustees is discussing and voting on the U of I budget for the upcoming school year. This spurred BSWs and their coworkers to take action in defense of good union jobs and the public good as a whole.
Taking Collective Action
On May 17, dozens of UIC workers and their allies rallied together against privatization across the U of I system. This rally featured workers sharing their testimonies about the impact of existing privatization efforts on their workplace standards – in front of special “guests” Board of Trustees President Donald J Edwards and University President Timothy Killeen.
“U of I has been selling off our jobs to private companies to take over. More buildings, like the one I work in, are being taken over by outside companies. Privatization harms workers and communities by lowering the standards and eliminating good civil service jobs that families depend on,” said Local 73 Member Vice President Lavitta “Vee” Steward.
Members spoke about how privatization threatens their pay, retirement, and healthcare benefits. “We provide essential services to this campus. We risked our lives during the pandemic, and we continue working hard to keep UIC running. UIC needs to listen to us. We know what it takes to keep the campus clean,” said Teresa Garcia, reading a message from a building service worker.
“All of the unions at UIC agree that it is time to put workers first in the organization and operation of our university,” said Aaron Krall, President of UIC United Faculty. “Does privatizing public services make them more efficient? Does it make them better at meeting the public’s needs? Does it make them cheaper? We’ve seen these arguments in our state, and in our city, and on our campus, and we know the answer: No.”
During the action, BSWs and their coworkers signed letters to Board President Edwards and University President Killeen urging the BoT to end privatization on campus.
Standing Strong in front of the BoT
The following day, on May 18, Local 73 members and UIUC workers rallied before the Board of Trustees meeting sending a clear message that workers all across the U of I system were united against privatization. Members delivered letters from UIC workers against privatization and a letter signed by six elected officials urging the BoT to “protect the integrity of Illinois public jobs and public services.”
Local 73 UIUC Union Rep Organizer Ricky Baldwin testified about the dangers of privatization. “Here at UIUC we’ve had some limited experience with contracting out of floor work. The result was not only shoddy, to say the least – and our in-house Building Service crew had to come out and re-do the work that had been contracted out – but it was more expensive. This is not only a waste of public funds, but those employees of the contractor are not seeing that higher pay, but lower – and without the benefits and rights that come with stable, union employment,” said Baldwin.
The BoT ultimately approved a business as usual budget, continuing to invest in private-public partnerships on campus. One of our core principles for bargaining is a UIC that works for the public good. That means pushing the University to prioritize the well-being of workers over the pursuit of profits. The fight against privatization will continue at the bargaining table and beyond.