For well over a year, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees local union 3236 has been trying to negotiate a fair contract with Illinois State University.
“We are tired and frustrated,” said Trish Gudeman, office support specialist and long-time member of local 3236.
Nearly 50 faculty, staff and students lined a long hallway of the Nelson Smith building on the second floor before the Human Resources bargaining session with the university Monday afternoon.
Following the bargaining session, university officials requested more time to mull over the union's proposal. They will meet again for further discussion and to hear the university's counter on Feb. 6
During the rally Monday, they held up posters and conversed among each other, sharing their concerns.
“The university has refused to budge on so many issues,” said Gudeman. “It is disheartening.”
Some of the issues include unfair wage, elimination or fixing the hiring range, compression and concerns with respect, social justice and equality.
“The bargaining session with AFSCME local 3236 is part of ongoing talks with the union,” said Director of Media Relations Eric Jome. “Illinois State officials continue to be optimistic that a contract settlement can be reached through this ongoing dialogue.”
The local 3236 is made up of clerical staff and healthcare workers. Nearly 80% of the 185 members are women, which is another concern of the union—that they are not being taken seriously, Gudeman said.
Many of these workers make less than a livable wage, having to resort to food stamps just to get by. In some cases, clerical workers have not seen their wages increase in a number of years. As the economy continues to grow, these workers are left the most economically vulnerable.
“The minimum wage increase is giving reason for the university to make some moves toward this but it is not enough,” Gudeman said.
Another issue being discussed at the bargaining session is the elimination or fixing of the hiring range, which has caused issues for the union members for years, according to Gudeman.
“The hiring range is the university’s leverage to acquire high quality candidates but then once hired in, there is no way to get out of the hiring range,” Gudeman said.
This results in compression. Often times, those hired off the street today are hired at a range that is greater than those who have been with the university for five, 10, 15 years or more.
But this is not the union’s first attempt to bargain with the university. Back in September local union 1110 signed a contract.
“We are not being heard,” Gudeman continued. “The president has not agreed to meet with us despite numerous attempts and the board will not respond to our repeated pleas and requests.”
There were 15 faculty members who stood with local 3236, including Barbara Heyl, a retired faculty member. She worked with the university for 30 years and said she remembers when the staff were fighting just to be able to form a union.
Heyl compared the current crisis to getting a pay cut each year, which she finds shameful as she recalled the staff being some of the hardest working people at the university during her time here.
“Clerical staff are crucial to get stuff done,” Heyl said. “We can’t teach without their support; we really rely on them a lot.”
Faculty members and sociologists Tom Gerschick and Frank Beck echoed this testament.
“This is an issue of justice,” Gerschick said. “We should not have staff relying on food stamps … we should be ashamed as an institution that this occurs. The university should recognize the loyalty of clerical workers and ensure that they make more than new hires.”
For sociology and anthropology professor Richard Sullivan, this was a lesson about social and labor movements. He invited his class to attend the rally to see first-hand what people with little power resort to.
Sullivan noted that one head coach and three assistant coaches for men’s basketball make about $1 million a year. He said that a 2% increase in wages for clerical workers, which is what the union is negotiating, would cost the university about $100,000 to cover all 185 members.
“This is virtually nothing in the grand scheme of things,” Sullivan said.
One of Sullivan’s students, junior sociology major Jesus Unzueta, said this was not his first time getting involved in a social movement on campus.
“If we do nothing, nothing is going to change, ” Unzueta said. “Just as important as it is that they are expressing their opinions, it is important that those who are profiting from their work should listen to them as well. As students of this university I feel that we should play a part.”
The bargaining session was expected to last about three hours.
“This is long overdue,” Renee Nestler, local 3236 staff representative, said as she addressed the crowd that gathered.
“We hope to lay a pathway today to bring us to a conclusion so we can start a new chapter.”
While the university indicated that they were happy to agree on some smaller issues to keep things moving Monday, they were generally not accepting of the union’s proposal regarding wages and issues with hiring range, according to Gudeman.