SEIU Members Approve New Contract For Building, Food Service Workers
By Jim Meadows
Faced with the choice of approving a new contract or going on another strike, building and food service workers at the University of Illinois Urbana campus chose to ratify the contract.
Members of Service Employees International Union Local 73 ratified the four-year agreement in voting that took place Thursday and Friday. (The previous agreement, which expired in July 2012, was for only two years).
The vote followed about ten months of negotiations, including a three-day strike held in March by building and food service workers. The agreement now awaits ratification by University of Illinois trustees. Baldwin said Friday that trustee approval appears likely.
SEIU field organizer Ricky Baldwin said turnout for the union vote was “very good,” with ratification endorsed by 93% of the vote among building service workers, and 89% of votes cast by food service workers. The new contract is retroactive to the end of the previous one in 2012.
According to Baldwin, the contract grants raises of 50 cents per hour in the first year, 30 cents the second year and raises of 25 cents each in the 3rd and 4th years. Baldwin says the important thing for the union is that the raises are determined in dollar amounts, not as a percentage of wages.
“So that, even if you’re making less money, you get the same raise as folks who are making more money”, explained Baldwin. “That was very important for us, and we got that, and that’s a first.”
Contract negotiations were carried out amidst a background of state budget deficits that have yet to be resolved. Baldwin conceded that bargaining was tougher this time around, due to the continuing budget crisis.
“The university definitely raised the issue of insecurity of their state appropriation”, said Baldwin. “And it’s definitely going down, and that does put pressure, for sure, on the negotiations.
A spokesperson for the U of I Urbana campus administration said they were “delighted” by news of the union ratification vote. Robin Kaler in an emailed statement said now, “everyone can focus – together – on serving our students. That’s what we all do best.”
The SEIU Local 73 agreement affects nearly 800 building and food service workers on the Urbana campus.