University owes SEIU fair wages

Building service worker Jesse Butler was featured in The Daily Illini three months ago for his outstanding service in Nugent Hall.

In my time living in Nugent, I have appreciated Jesse’s hard work and his friendly demeanor, as he is always willing to stop and chat with anyone around the residence hall.

But yesterday and today, he, along with other members of the Services Employees International Union, will vote whether to hold a strike. The SEIU has been negotiating a new contract with the University since June, to no avail.

Soon, Jesse and hundreds of other University employees could temporarily disappear.

Food and building service workers make up the University’s portion of the SEIU Local 73. These groups include those who prepare food at University housing, those who clean and maintain the residence halls, those who clean and do regular maintenance in academic buildings, those who deliver campus mail, the maids at the Illini Union hotel and countless more.

Among many parts of the contract, they are negotiating for fair raises that are adjusted for inflation and additional costs, like health care premiums.

The timeline of these negotiations is strikingly similar to those of the Graduate Employees’ Organization, which started last April. The GEO’s contract was settled a week into December, just before a strike that would have halted many undergraduate classes a week before finals.

While the negotiations between the SEIU and the University have taken too long, I hope that a contract can be settled before a strike would happen.

What would a food and building service strike mean?

It would mean that all food and building service workers, except those that have recently been hired, would not come to work.

Hair piling up in your residence hall shower? Unless you do it, no one will be there to remove it.

Looking forward to a good meal of burgers and fries at Ikenberry? Sorry, only cold cuts for a while.

Eagerly awaiting that care package from grandma? It won’t be delivered.

And for those students in Nugent, along with all other residence halls, our Jesse Butlers won’t be there to greet us hello throughout the day.

Perhaps I’m being melodramatic. A strike won’t last forever.

However, the University likes to push the limits when it comes to deadlines for negotiations.

The GEO negotiated with the University for eight months before they voted on a strike authorization. Only then did the University buckle down and truly negotiate.

Negotiations with the SEIU have persisted for seven months, and the threat of a strike looms near.

Instead of having to anticipate how to continue operations without a staff, the University needs to realize a strike can and probably will happen, should negotiations not be worked out in the next few days.

But even more importantly, the University needs to recognize that these workers are essential — they are valued. After all, they are the ones who keep the day-to-day operations of this University running smoothly.

History professor Megan McLaughlin wrote in to The Daily Illini on Wednesday, voicing her contempt for the University’s treatment of the building and service workers.

“I therefore call on you (University administrators) to take action on behalf of our lowest-paid and most vulnerable colleagues in the academic enterprise — and yes, they are our colleagues, for without their essential physical work, no intellectual work would be possible on this campus,” she wrote. “I call on you, first of all, to negotiate in good faith with the (SEIU), the building and food service workers’ union, in simple accordance with the law.”

Above all, these workers want and deserve decent wages, ones that increase from year to year so that they don’t end up losing money, should wages not rise to compensate for inflation.

It’s not an outrageous demand. In fact, it’s a demand that makes complete sense and is puzzling as to why the SEIU has to fight for this aspect of its contract in the first place.

Let’s show those workers represented by the SEIU that we care; they do not receive daily recognition for their work, but should they strike, everyone would notice and miss the work that is not being done.

University administrators: Now is the last chance to negotiate, and it is clear what the right thing to do is.

Kirsten is a sophomore in Media. She can be reached at kekellr2@dailyillini.com.