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University board approves million-dollar athletic director salary, offers service workers ’25 cents an hour’ raise

CHAMPAIGN-URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — University of Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman’s salary will go from $800,000 to $975,000 overnight.

The university Board of Trustees approved the raise Thursday morning along with additional pay increases over the course of his four-year contract extension.

By July of 2027, Whitman’s annual salary will be up to $1,225,000, not including the $300,000 in incentive compensation he’s eligible for each year.

Illinois Chancellor Robert Jones said he’s confident resigning Whitman will “keep Illinois Athletics on its upward trajectory.”

In stark contrast, University of Illinois service workers at the Urbana-Champaign campus were frustrated by the announcement Thursday. The Service Workers International Union, SEIU Local 73, has been fighting for a few additional dollars an hour for months.

Union steward Mike Lindley accused the board of underpaying workers the university has deemed essential over the course of a two-year pandemic.

“It’s leading to short-staff, under-staffing issues and budgetary issues all over the place it seems,” Lindley said.

Food and building service workers start off at $15.90 an hour, or about $31,000 a year.

“They just offered us 25 cents an hour raise. That’s what they offered us, which is insulting,” Lindley divulged citing the latest in ongoing contract negotiations.

SEIU members are asking for a $5/hour raise for the 2022-2023 academic year and a $1/hour raise for each of the remaining two years in the proposed contract.

“It sounds like a lot,” Lindley admitted. “But what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to catch up to the cost of living.”

Lindley called the raises in the last several contracts with the university “minimal” and not enough to keep up with the rising cost of living.

“And then especially with the most recent explosion of inflation, we are way behind,” he said.

Union members have received a total of $1.20 in raises in the last three years, Lindley said.

SEIU Local 73 spokesman Adrian Rojas called Whitman’s raise “shameful.”

“We’re not asking for the moon. We’re asking the university to simply give these workers—whom UIUC deemed essential—what they’re due: wages that reflect their hard work during a continued pandemic and an ever-rising cost of living,” Rojas said in an email statement Thursday.

“We are essential employees that showed up to campus every day over the pandemic,” Lindley added. “You know, we helped this campus run while they worked from home.”

Careers like Whitman’s are particularly competitive and the salary bar has been set high.

Sports Illustrated reported the University of Nebraska, a fellow Big Ten school, recently started paying its new athletic director Trev Alberts a base salary of $800,000 with hundreds of thousands more in bonuses possible.

An ESPN report from nearly a decade ago in 2013 shows Wisconsin shelled out $1.2 million and Ohio state nearly $1.1 million at the time for their athletic directors.

Illini associate athletics director Kent Brown said “the athletics department is responsible for generating all our own funding. University funds are not used,” which includes Whitman’s salary.

“Yeah, okay. I understand that argument,” Lindley responded. “That could potentially be considered a fair argument. But however, consider right now that they’re also closing the libraries down to renovate the library system and that’s an over $100 million renovation.”

$50 million toward the renovation project has been approved so far by the Board of Trustees.

“There’s money for everything until it comes to us,” Lindley concluded.

The union voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike this week in what leadership called the largest turnout in the local unit’s history. Bargaining between the union and the board is expected to continue and another vote would be needed before a walkout could happen.