Late on Oct. 6, the Service Employees International Union Local 73 announced that a majority of its members had voted to ratify a contract agreement reached between the union and the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Recent strikes led by SEIU Local 73 and the Illinois Nurses Association resulted in victory for workers at UIC and University of Illinois hospitals. After dozens of bargaining sessions, the INA which represents more than 1,300 nurses, launched a seven-day strike on Sept. 12. Over a year of failed contract negotiations led nearly 4,000 SEIU Local 73 UIC workers to begin a 10-day unfair labor practices strike in solidarity with INA two days later, demanding that UIC “respect us, protect us and pay us.”
SEIU Local 73 workers from across UIC campuses provide a range of services to students and patients, from building services workers and hospital support staff to occupational therapists and people who work with children with special needs. The newly ratified contract agreement includes:
- Across-the-board pay raises for all workers, including back pay
- $15 per hour minimum wage for building services workers in Chicago
- PPE commitment from Governor J.B. Pritzker
- Safe staffing levels to limit exposure to COVID-19
- Protections against outsourcing
Julio Bautista, a UIC building service worker and member of SEIU Local 73, told Liberation News he was striking to ensure a living wage for all workers and to keep union jobs on campus. Pay for local workers has not increased at a pace commensurate with the rising cost of living in Chicago, leaving many struggling to stay afloat in the midst of extremely volatile economic conditions during a global pandemic.
During a press conference, SEIU Local 73 President Dian Palmer credited Black and Brown women on the front lines of the struggle with convincing fellow workers that striking was worth the risk. “This is a victory for all working people in Illinois and shows what’s possible when workers unite and demand that employers respect us, protect us and pay us,” said Palmer.
On Oct. 1, INA co-chief steward at UI Health Paul Pater announced that a supermajority of nurses voted to approve the contract, which guarantees safe patient limits. Labor organizing at UIC and UI Health had been made particularly challenging by the university: UIC had brought out-of-state workers to cross SEIU’s picket line while UI Health secured a temporary restraining order against the INA, preventing select critical care nurses from participating in the strike. Despite these efforts by the university to undermine the movement, both SEIU Local 73 and INA left the picket lines victorious after successfully demonstrating their collective bargaining power.