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ISU building service workers union authorizes walkout in contract deadlock

Building Service Workers union members at ISu rallied Monday evening as they announced approval of a strike against the university amid a contract negotiation deadlock.
Charlie Schlenker
AFSCME Local 1110 union members at ISU rallied Monday, March 28, 2022, as they announced approval of a strike against the university amid a contract negotiation deadlock.

The union representing building service workers at Illinois State University has voted overwhelmingly to authorize a walkout, with 86% of the 300-plus members of American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 1110 voting. Of that number, 96% voted in favor of a strike, said regional spokesperson Anders Lindall.

The contract with ISU expired nine months ago.

Chuck Carver, president of AFSCME Local 1110, said during a rally outside the ISU administration building on Monday that starting pay for building service workers is less than you would get walking into Taco Bell for a job.

"A building service worker like me starts at $13.70 per hour. Almost 20% of our bargaining unit makes that amount or less. In contrast, a livable wage in McLean County is considered $16 an hour, according to MIT," said Carver.

The two sides have met numerous times for negotiation. Union members soundly rejected one proposal the bargaining team took to the rank and file because it did not fully take into account a rise in the minimum wage, said union leaders. Then ISU imposed the terms of that offer, said Renee Nestler, a staff representative for AFSCME Council 31.

The union and university have two bargaining sessions set this week, Wednesday and Friday, and have agreed to use a federal mediator. Union leaders said pay is the main dispute, though some non-economic issues remain to be resolved as well.

"Bloomington-Normal is often noted as one of the happiest places in the United States to live. When the second largest employer cannot provide a living wage for our region, that ain't right," said Adam Heenan, president of the Bloomington-Normal Trades and Labor Assembly, which has Local 1110 and numerous other bargaining units under its umbrella.

ISU said in an online statement that it is disappointed in the vote, but that it was not unexpected because holding a strike authorization vote is often a normal part of the negotiation process. ISU said the parties have reached a tentative agreement on 16 issues.

"While the university remains committed to negotiating in good faith and optimistic that the parties will reach agreement without the need for a strike, the university has initiated contingency planning activities to ensure its ability to minimize disruption to university operations should a strike occur," said the statement.

A strike cannot happen until after the involvement of a mediator, said Nestler, adding the union hopes the strike vote will accelerate the timetable under which a mediator would be available to participate in talks.

AFSCME Local 1110 represents about 350 employees at ISU, primarily in the janitorial, grounds, catering, dining center, and retail dining areas.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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