Labor union protests for bargaining agreement

By James Krause

DeKALB — A labor union representing faculty and staff at NIU protested Monday at the MLK Commons. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 Local 1890 represents over 1,000 members of faculty and staff at NIU, including 600 operational staff members. The union has been negotiating with the university for a bargaining agreement for said staff members of over two years for an initial contract.

The group has been looking for periodic wage increases as a recent 3 percent pay wage passed by the Board of Trustees is a one-time increase that, according to the union, averages out to an increase of only 37 cents an hour.

The union has not received their promised wage increase.

Christian Lash, AFSCME Executive Board Member, said the union is trying to work with the administration, but the university is not doing enough.

“We went through negotiation and said we would like this 3 percent increase,” Lash said. “This would be a really good show of faith that you are ready and willing to work with us. They are holding that 3 percent increase hostage at the bargaining table.”

Union representative Sarah Dorner said Jesse Perez, NIU director of Employee and Labor Relations, promised to propose a fair wage agreement during a Jan. 9 meeting with AFSCME negotiators. Dorner said the fair wage agreement was to be presented at a future meeting.

“He recognized that some of our classifications are way far behind in terms of wage increases and wanted to rectify that, and he was working on getting that information,” Dorner said.

Perez showed up to the March 9 meeting “empty handed” with no proposal, Dorner said.

“All he did was print out information from the State University Civil Service System website,” Dorner said. “Information that’s available to everyone. It’s not a proposal, it’s just information.”

Several politicians and candidates for public office took part in the rally, including a speech from Angela Fellars, a Democratic candidate for State Representative in the 67th district.

“In Trump’s America and Rauner’s Illinois, silence is mistaken for consent, and we do not consent,” Fellars said. “We do not consent to unfair labor practices. We do not consent to unfair wages. We do not consent to people stealing from our kids’ education.”

JB Pritzker, who won the Democratic primary Governor race Tuesday, also attended the rally and briefly spoke with union leaders. Dorner said she respects politicians who are willing to show their support for unions.

“I have respect for any politician who comes and walks the picket line with union members,” Dorner said. “They are friends of labor, and I’m sure JB Pritzker will be a friend of labor, too.”

The union said it will picket in the MLK Commons every Monday until a deal has been agreed on. Lash said the protests come out of a necessity, as the union has done everything it feels possible.

“I don’t know how much more we can do, and that’s why we are picketing,” Lash said. “To tell NIU ‘we’ve done our work, it’s your turn.’”

NIU Spokesperson Joe King wrote in an email that the adminstration has bargained in good faith and will continue doing so.

“In our most recent communications last week, both parties have agreed to puruse mediation in order to move negotiations forward,” King said.