Healthcare workers at University of Illinois College of Medicine on strike, demand better pay, respect

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Thousands across the state walked out from their jobs Monday afternoon at the University of Illinois College of Medicine campuses.

The over 4,000 unionized employees picketed outside the University of Illinois Chicago Hospital, a doctor’s office in Rockford and in downtown Peoria at the corner of Main Street and Illinois Route 40.

Monday morning, around 20 to 30 of those 4,000  Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73 members lined the sidewalks making their voices heard. They said they’ve been working without a contract in place for over a year and enough is enough.

On Monday, local members of SEIU Local 73 union made their voices heard outside UICOMP buildings in downtown Peoria. They are striking against management after having worked over a year without a contract. Office manager at the Peoria campus Amanda Franklin said talks fizzled out Sunday night and they decided to walk out.

“We’ve been trying to negotiate with the university for months and months, they won’t come to the table,” Franklin said. “When they do come to the table, they offer nothing agreeable.”

Franklin said employees have been working on their own will for over a year and while they value employment, they don’t want to be walked on either.

“This is the first time we’ve had to strike, I think this is the most disrespected we’ve ever felt,” Franklin said. “The university wants to give us no increases in wage.”

The group said many offices are understaffed and many times employees don’t receive enough personal-protective-equipment (PPE) to keep themselves and others safe. Franklin said it’s not only unfair to them but the others that they help.

“We cant have safe doctors’ offices, a safe school for students learning to be doctors if employees aren’t safe,” Franklin said.

Mary Sierra an office support specialist said for years management has received pay increases, including one of 17% while workers like her get ‘pennies’. Sierra said she and her colleagues deserve a wage to live on.

“It has reached a breaking point. When someone at McDonald’s is making more than me, that’s a breaking point,” Sierra said.

Franklin said staff range from office personnel to security as well. She said they want to feel respected.

“We’re barely making it on what we make now, we’re not doctors. We check people in, coordinate student internships,” Franklin said.

Sierra said she wants management to listen to their demands and hopes both groups can reach some sort of agreement as she enjoys her job.

“A living wage is absolutely what we need,” Sierra said. “There are benefits, it is good to work for UICOMP, however, we also need respect, recognition appreciation and someone to listen to our questions and support us.”

She said many of the picketers out Monday work at area hospitals and supporting them, supports the area.

“Supporting us supports them (local hospitals) and our community. UICOMP is celebrating 50 years in Peoria. Let’s make a difference for our community,” Sierra said.

The strikers said they love supporting students and patients but said they themselves have run out of patience.

“My hope is we come together and all these wonderful people behind me receive what they deserve,” Sierra said.

University of Illinois College of Medicine officials released a statement reading:

“We are disappointed that the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 73 — with four bargaining units representing 4,000 Clerical, Technical, Service & Maintenance, and Professional employees across the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) campus and at UI Health — has announced a strike starting Monday, September 14.”– Michael D. Amiridis, Chancellor, University of Illinois Chicago; and Michael Zenn, CEO, University of Illinois Hospital & Clinics

It continues to read:

“While we fully respect our employees’ right to strike, we believe that this work stoppage is not in the best interest of the campus community. We remain committed to addressing key issues and believe much can be resolved through further dialogue. We are scheduled to resume bargaining on Tuesday, and we hope the SEIU will join us in negotiations as often as possible to work toward a new agreement and to end this strike.”-Michael D. Amiridis, Chancellor, University of Illinois Chicago; and Michael Zenn, CEO, University of Illinois Hospital & Clinics

The group of protesters said they plan to be picketing outside the UICOMP campus again on Tuesday morning.

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