November 29, 2023

Progress towards fair pay at NIU

Six weeks after Northern Illinois University support staff went public with their frustration over low pay at work and long delays at the bargaining table, they’ve won a new union contract that makes significant strides toward improving wages.

The two-year agreement includes a 5% pay increase retroactive to July 1, 2023, at least a 3% increase on July 1, 2024, and in both years, additional lump-sum payments ranging from $800 to $1,150 per employee based on seniority.

In addition, the contract raises the minimum starting wage to $16 an hour and allocates funding specifically to address the problem of “inversion”, in which new hires have sometimes been paid more than experienced employees.

In late September, nearly 70 members of AFSCME Locals 1890 and 963—which together represent administrative, clerical and building service workers, among others—turned out to a meeting of the university Board of Trustees, each carrying a cut-out in the shape of a foot demanding the board “Stop Walking All Over Us.” On each cut-out, employees wrote their hire date, the years of service they’ve given to the university and their wage.

After several workers spoke passionately about their experiences of being underpaid but still giving their all to the university, every member walked up to where the board was seated and laid their cut-out in front of them, one by one.

“People were hired after me in academic departments that are smaller than mine, same job title, and they make more than me,” Nicole Adams, an office manager in the Department of Psychology, said at the Board of Trustees meeting. “Is that fair? Is that equitable?”

“It’s very tough for people to be at almost poverty wages while an administration keeps giving themselves raises year after year,” Local 963 President Patrick Sheridan said.

Rave Meyer, an office manager and the president of Local 1890, said that the action made a tremendous impact on the board.

“It was a huge show of solidarity,” Meyer said. “It affected the board of trustees. It was only six weeks later that we had a new contract.”

In addition to the wage increases and bonuses, their new contract also made significant improvements to employee rights around overtime and probation.

“This agreement represents a critical step forward in our pursuit of a brighter and more equitable future,” Meyer said. “Even so, our journey is far from over. Our union will remain steadfast in our commitment to tirelessly work toward realizing these essential goals.”

The AFSCME bargaining committee included Meyer and nearly 20 other union members. The committee was led by Council 31 Staff Representative Rick Surber.

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