From WILL - News Headlines -

Service Workers at the University of Illinois Vote to Authorize Strike

A union representing 800 University of Illinois service employees voted with overwhelming support Thursday to give its members the right to walk off the job.

Contract negotiations between the Service Employees International Union Local 73 and the U of I have gone on for six months. The union is asking for new contracts that include better pay and employee benefits for campus building and food service workers.

Union organizer Ricky Baldwin said the U of I has proposed salary cuts and pay freezes for the workers, which the union has rejected. The university is currently waiting on more than $400 million in state payments. Baldwin said he understand that the U of I is going through some tough economic challenges, but he said union workers are still entitled to better pay and employee benefits.

"We understand that the economy is not good, the budget is not good, but we also know the university has a lot of money," Baldwin said.

Baldwin cites a 37.5 percent salary increase for U of I President Michael Hogan over what former university President B. Joseph White was earning. He also points to the university paying outside consultants $1.7 million to train administrators to 'Plan to Plan', and Board of Trustees giving the green light to raising the U of I's overall operating budget by 3.9 percent.

"They're giving top administrators raises," Baldwin said. "They can afford to give us 30-to-40 cents an hour. It won't break the bank."

Baldwin said workers could walk off the job within a few months if a deal is not reached.

Meanwhile, U of I spokeswoman Robin Kaler said any discussion of a strike is premature and counterproductive.

"The University remains confident that the parties will be able to reach an agreement through good faith negotiations," Kaler said.

The two sides will return to the bargaining table Friday at 9 a.m. at the Florida Avenue Residence Halls. An hour before the meeting, union workers will be picketing.