Union, University negotiate contract for campus workers

By Vania Wang

The University of Chicago and Local 743 Teamsters Union officials are currently negotiating campus worker contracts that are set to expire February 28. The current agreement covers clerical and maintenance employees of the University.

Evelyn Steward, a union steward for the Teamsters, said there are about 600 union workers on campus who will be affected by the new contract. Because negotiations have already started, many details remain confidential. “The members asked for a lot of things, and we took it right to the table,” she said. “Hopefully, we will get somewhere.”

Campus employees have expressed dissatisfaction with their current contract and with University actions. “We need a bigger pay raise and more benefits,” said Betty Hines, a University employee who works in the Max Palevsky dorm mailroom.

“Don’t give us a little raise and take it back,” Hines said. “If they give us a 30-cent raise, they raise the cost of benefits a dollar; what you get in a raise is nothing.”

Employees expressed similar concerns about the amount of break time, restrictions on breaks and vacation, the allocation of bonus money, and perhaps most significantly, inadequate pay, both overall, and compared to management.

The cost of living is going up, said one clerical worker who requested that her name be withheld. “ is just not enough. We need more money.”

Another employee, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, was unhappy with the distribution of salaries and bonuses. “Most of the money goes to management, and we don’t get bonuses. All of that goes to management,” the employee said.

Cheryl Gutman, deputy dean of students for Housing and Dining Services, said the University has recently taken measures to increase salaries.

“While there may be employees who are unhappy, we did just reclassify the entire group of desk clerks three years ago to increase their overall pay scale,” Gutman said in an e-mail interview. She explained that the University did a job market analysis to evaluate potential raises, comparing University wage rates with other businesses and institutions.

Christopher Keating, director of Facilities and Business Operations for Residence Halls and Commons, confirmed the reclassification. In an e-mail he added, “Of course, most employees want to earn more, but we must do this within the limits of our department budget and established ranges.”

Keating said the difference between management and labor salaries is due to “the University or union contract pay scales. They are based on market analysis of the job skills required to perform the job.”

Although Keating could not comment on break time because the issue is currently under negotiation, he did explain the University’s vacation policy. “Certain months which cover opening or closing of the residence halls are times when we require all our staff to be at work,” he said. Outside of the specific times, he added, the University allows the use of personal accruals: “We make exceptions under special circumstances.”

The contract renewal for campus employees has also attracted some student attention. Students Organized and United with Labor (SOUL), a workers’ rights group, is running a campaign to improve pay, healthcare benefits, and other contentious sections of the current contract.

Worried that the union may not be fighting hard enough because of disunity among its members, SOUL is attempting to “build lasting worker power so the union will be stronger,” said Andy Kiertz, a member of SOUL and fourth-year in the College.

Joe Sekauer, a member of the Teamsters who works with SOUL, cited education as one of the main goals of the campaign. “A lot of workers are uneducated about what their union rights are, and they are unorganized,” Sekauer said. As a result, “a lot of worker organizations are just shells of what they should be,” he said.

Hines also said she was dissatisfied with the lack of information from the union. “They haven’t let us know anything, not even the steward, about what’s going to be on the table and what’s not,” she said. “We pay dues, and we don’t know anything.”

Steward said the union’s proposal was based on member survey results from last year. The last contract renewal negotiations took over a year, and the timetable for this year’s contract remains uncertain, she said.