URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — Service workers at the University of Illinois are asking for a pay raise and for “dozens of members” to be retro paid six years’ worth of “unpaid wages.”
SEIU Local 73 steward Mike Lindley said little progress was reached during negotiations Monday. The meeting with university leaders came a day after the union — primarily represented by the university’s food and building service workers — announced members are set to vote over the next week-and-a-half on whether to authorize a strike.
Negotiations began in November. Lindley said the university has been “dragging its feet” in drafting a new contract, including any wage increase proposals.
“It’s been minimal increases in our wages for the last several contracts now. We’re way behind. If you look at wages around the area, we’re now being underpaid,” Lindley said directly following the latest bargaining session.
“You can go numerous places in Champaign Urbana and make more money than where we start now and that’s resulting in staffing shortages.”
Members have also been asking for owed wages, according to Lindley, who is a building service worker. He said employees on the night shifts, like himself, are supposed to be paid more under the union’s current contract with the university. Instead, he said they haven’t been paid properly in six years.
Robin Kaler, U of I’s associate chancellor of public affairs responded in an email statement: “The 18 people who were affected by a mistake in pay calculations received back pay retroactive to November 1, 2020 and as we continue the arbitration process, we have paid all monies we believe we owe.”
That time period only includes owed pay dating back to when the union filed a grievance about it, according to Lindley, who says the union expects its members to be paid back for an additional four years of incorrect pay.
Results from the vote are expected late next week.
If an agreement is not reached, a thousand service workers could walk out the door in September, not long after students return from summer break.
“It’s hard to replace a thousand essential workers,” Lindley said.
The last time the union went on strike was in 2013. Lindley says about 800 people walked off the job that year, prompting the university to declare a civil service emergency. He says if that happens again this year, closer to 1,000 employees would be on the picket line.
“Our impact has been more pronounced, especially through this pandemic. You would immediately see all your rooms would be dirty, there would be no trash would be taken out, students wouldn’t be getting fed. Last time we went on strike they started cutting up fruit to hand to students for food,” he explained.
Kaler told reporters the university plans to discuss “economic issues at the upcoming bargaining session,” adding “We are confident that working together we can reach an agreement that is fair to all.”