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UIC workers to take strike vote over pay raise, PPE

About 4,000 clerical, professional, service, maintenance and technical workers are calling for access to personal protective equipment, increased staffing levels and a minimum $15 hourly wage.

Dian Palmer, president of the SEIU Local 73, speaks in support of her members and the Chicago Teachers Union during a rally at First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple, three days before the unions could walk off the job on strike, Monday afternoon, Oct. 14, 2019.| Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times
Dian Palmer, president of the SEIU Local 73
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Thousands of workers at the University of Illinois at Chicago are preparing to take a strike vote over working conditions and increased pay.

About 4,000 clerical, professional, service, maintenance and technical workers are calling for access to personal protective equipment, increased staffing levels and a raised minimum hourly wage of $15. Starting next week, SEIU Local 73, which represents the workers, will open a vote on whether to approve a strike.

“Workers are ready to strike for their lives,” union president Dian Palmer said at a news conference Thursday. “Every job and every worker matter. We will use our collective power to win for our families and communities.”

University spokeswoman Sherri McGinnis Gonzalez said in an email the university is “hopeful” an agreement can be reached and negotiations will continue “in good faith.”

Monica Jones, a building service worker at UIC, said university management has “no concern for our livelihood.”

“I know how crucial and valuable my team is to the university,” Jones said. “We’re not asking for too much. This is only asking for what we long deserve.”

Building service workers start at $12.65 hourly, and the lowest-paid university workers — food service cashiers at the hospital — make $10.49 hourly, said Shea Marshall, executive board member of SEIU Local 73.

Workers are also calling for universal access and use of N-95 masks, especially in the hospital system, Marshall said.

Angelina Ross, a medical office specialist at UIC, said a lack of access to PPE and staffing levels create a stressful and unsafe work environment.

“This pandemic isn’t going anywhere anytime soon,” Ross said. “It’s time for UIC to prove that they care for us, and that we’re not just numbers on a piece of paper.”