December 14, 2021

EIU workers win contract battle

AFSCME Local 981 members at Eastern Illinois University fought long and hard to win a new union contract that protects their jobs and increases their wages. Solidarity, determination and support from the campus community were critical components of their successful campaign.

The local represents some 220 employees in clerical and technical roles, building services and dining services. They were up against an administration that was trying to cut costs on the backs of its employees after years of budget cuts and layoffs. Negotiations went on for more than a year with management fighting them every step of the way.

The union organized actions at board of trustees meetings, held campus-wide pickets, published op-eds and newspaper ads and got support on social media. The student body came together to support their campaign, covering their struggle in the campus newspaper (see page 9 for more), and faculty and other staff joined them in protest.

The biggest fight was protecting building and food services employees. Management wanted the option of outsourcing those jobs to a private contractor.

“They wanted to replace all of us,” Local President Renee Kerz said. “We’ve taken care of the campus, the students, everything that needed to be done.”

Removing the outsourcing clause was one of the last things the union team got done before finalizing the contract—and the biggest victory.

“We were really proud that we got them to take it out. Our campus actions had a lot to do with it,” Local 981 Recording Secretary Kim Turner said. “The campus and the Charleston community were horrified that EIU would do something that would put their own employees out of a job.”

Management had also attempted to tie wage increases to student enrollment.

“A lot of members in our bargaining unit are the lowest-paid people on campus and they don’t have anything to do with enrollment or recruitment,” Turner said. “It wouldn’t be fair. We got that clause removed and won across-the-board raises and a signing bonus.”

AFSCME members at EIU fought like never before. “We had been through so much with the budget crisis, so many employees were laid off, some came back to lower-paid positions, and everyone is taking on more work since then,” Turner said. “We’ve all been struggling with COVID and we felt like it was time for management to step up. We kept fighting until we got everybody what they deserved.”

The bargaining team was led by Council 31 Staff Representative Natalie Nagel, and included Kerz, Turner, Leslie Ashley-McLean, Melissa Crouch-Carr, Michelle Burnside, Dusty Strader, Kenny Keyser, Tony Willenborge and Dino Cohoon.

Related News