The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

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The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

Trades and Supply Chain Workers at UChicago Medicine Threaten July 14 Strike

After over six months of stagnant negotiations, SEIU Local 73—which represents 125 building trades and supply chain workers at UChicago Medicine—voted to walk out unless an agreement is reached with UCM.
SEIU+Local+73+Jeff+Howard+speaking+at+the+press+conference.
Evgenia Anastasakos
SEIU Local 73 Jeff Howard speaking at the press conference.

UChicago Medicine (UCM) trades and supply chain workers announced their intent to strike starting July 14 at a press conference held Wednesday in front of Mitchell Hospital. After more than six months of negotiations, including a session on Tuesday with a federal mediator, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73—which represents 125 workers at UChicago Medicine (UCM)—voted to walk out unless an agreement is reached with UCM. 

At the press conference, executive vice president of SEIU Local 73 Jeff Howard called the strike a “last resort.”

“We keep the boilers going, we keep the doors swinging, we keep the walls painted, we keep the supplies moving, we make sure this hospital runs. And on July 14, if you don’t come with the real contract, we’re gonna show you just how much this place doesn’t run without us,” Howard said. 

Union members are calling for wage increases to match inflation, more affordable health insurance, and improved benefits. The union has filed multiple unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), including surveillance of union activity, canceling bargaining in retaliation for concerted activity, and failure to provide information relevant to bargaining. 

“Over the years, I’ve seen the wages fall behind. We are making less than we did before the pandemic. I was hoping to retire in a couple of years, but I don’t know if I can,” UCM operating engineer Charles Matthews said. 

Another key sticking point for the union is the health insurance plan UCM offers SEIU employees, which workers say is unaffordable. 

“UCM has not offered us wages to even keep up with today’s insurance cost. We propose changes to our health insurance proposal that would cost very little for UCM but would make a huge difference in our lives,” Justin Babitsch, a painter who works at UCM, said.

He said he has seen the cost of a family insurance plan increase in the past years, from $568 in 2021 to $849 now. 

“What’s going to happen in the next four years? It’s going to go up and up and up,” Babitsch said.

Leah Fried, campaigns director at SEIU Local 73 and a lead negotiator in the dispute, emphasized that workers do not want to strike but are prepared to do so if UCM does not address their demands. 

“Our goal is to provide the services that are so vital to this hospital, but it depends on UCMC.  When they are ready to meet and seriously talk about addressing the expensive insurance, the low wages, and making sure they can attract and retain staff to provide those services, then we’re ready to meet,” Fried said.

While UCM hopes to avoid a strike through additional negotiations, it is making arrangements to continue normal operations. In a statement to the Maroon, the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC) wrote, “As we have during every threatened workforce disruption, UCMC has engaged a company to provide experienced workers to replace SEIU-represented employees if a strike occurs. These replacement workers will ensure all support functions seamlessly continue so our Medical Center will fulfill its obligation and mission to provide safe, high-quality care to patients.”

The statement concluded, “UCMC remains committed to bargaining in good faith and working toward a new contract. But any new labor agreement must balance the needs of our employees while still allowing the Medical Center to serve the medical needs of our patients and all of the communities that we serve.”

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