Illinois State University service workers win a new contract
Strike authorization media release. Unveiled by SEIU 73 during their negotiations in the Fall, “ISU Pays Poverty Wages” has become a loud labor slogan against the university. | Charlie Shlenker – WGLT

Illinois State University’s American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) local 1110 approved a new four-year contract Tuesday, April 19 with 92% of members voting in favor. This contract will take their lowest paid workers from $12.30 an hour to $15.00 an hour, and higher, over their four-year contract.

Those making $14.50 and below will see a 6.5% increase each year and those making above $14.50 will see similar, though less substantial, raises over the same four-year period. Current employees will receive retroactive raises as far back as October 1, 2021. The contract will be in effect through June 30, 2025.

Illinois State University faced its second potential strike this academic year after the Grad Workers Union (SEIU 73) threatened one in the Fall. AFSCME 1110, which represents university building services, grounds, event management, dining, and hospitality workers, have been fighting for a new contract since their last one expired in June 2021. They announced Monday, March 28 their authorization results. With 80% of the union voting, the authorization vote passed with 96% voting in favor.

Departments represented by AFSCME workers have been some of the hardest hit during the pandemic. Essential, even without the ongoing pandemic, AFSCME workers ensure facilities are cleaned and maintained, debris is cleared, students are fed, and events such as graduation can happen. Forced to still work on site while most of the university was remote during the peak of the pandemic, they have been thrown under the bus like so many other frontline workers. Long hours, hard work, and low pay has been the general experience of many.

Starting as low as $12.30 an hour before their new contract, these university workers do not make a livable wage even for a single adult with no children. Due to their low wages, many university workers sought other employment. Union president Chuck Carver stated during their March 28th press conference that departments have only been able to hire one new worker for every four lost. This placed an even greater strain on those who remained. Even if their compensation was relatively fair, they were, and still are, doing more work for the same rate. Coupled with rapidly rising inflation, workers are now effectively being paid less than before.

This is not new for Illinois State which has shown its hand as an anti-labor institution. Just last fall SEIU Local 73, the Grad Workers Union, faced similar hostility from ISU. History seldom repeats itself, but it sure does rhyme. During our initial coverage of SEIU 73, we reported low compensation, higher costs of living, the challenges of poverty wages and how it’s expensive to be poor, providing bonuses to already high paid administration and coaches, the need for federal mediation, the implementation of a disinformation webpage by the university, and the call and passage of strike authorization. All of these have come back into the spotlight, even down to the same kind of disinformation website.

Faced with two strike authorizations, it is apparent ISU’s admiration does not understand it is the workers who truly make the university function. They will not clean their own toilets, they will not serve the students food, and they will not staff events. They will remain in their cozy offices in Hovey Hall, making six-figure salaries patting themselves on the back. They will continue to push and approve unnecessary multi-million-dollar contraction projects, million-dollar coaching contracts, and establish entirely new colleges costing tens of millions of dollars while their workers stuffer. They won’t feel the pain they inflict on others. The slogan, “ISU Pays Poverty Wages!” still rings true.

On April 7 the union provided the University with a Notice of Intent to Strike that would allow the Union to engage in a strike on or after April 18, 2022. University workers care deeply for the work they do with and for the students at the university. However, they could not provide those services if they themselves were being paid below-poverty level wages. The union was not alone either as the Bloomington-Normal Trades and Labor Assembly stands behind them as well as other community groups and the student body.

Speaking to AFSCME workers, it was a very, very, credible strike threat that had it occurred, would have shut the university down. On Tuesday, April 12, AFSCME 1110 held a rally outside of Hovey Hall demanding a fair contract. The April 12 rally brought together over 200 people from AFSCME 1110, the Bloomington-Normal community, the student body, and other union members in solidarity, including pipefitters, machinists, laborers, plumbers, additional AFSCME locals, and the Campus Town Starbucks workers from Peoria who are currently holding their vote for a union. State and region-wide AFSCME leadership were also present at the rally.

AFSCME Council 31 executive director, Roberta Lynch, standing atop a truck with a megaphone doubled down on ISU’s commitment to new facilities and buildings, but it’s a clear disregard for those who will staff those buildings. She promised local 1110 will not go down quietly if an agreement was not reached.

Chuck Carver, president of AFSME 1110, reiterated the same message that has rung true throughout negotiations. ISU cannot pay and retain its workers with the wages and benefits they are offering. For every four people who leave, they have only been able to hire one person to fill those positions, creating immense strain on the workers of the university.

Chuck Carver, Union President, announcing the strike authorization vote. | AFSCME Council 31

Steven Lazerov, an organizer in the grad workers union, observed that the budget at ISU is made by people, and can be remade by people, the workers. “Instead of paying a fair contract for 1110, ISU pays Director of Labor Relations, Mike Kruger, . .  $150,000 a year. Kruger’s entire job on campus is to make sure people do not get paid. He is the person who works day in and day out at the negotiation table so that 1110 won’t get paid.” Lazerov said, lambasting the many millions spent on other university projects.

After the speeches, the crowd marched around the university quad, catching the attention of many students walking by, and surely many in those classrooms close enough. Chants of “What do we want? A fair contract!” and “No justice, no peace!” were heard throughout the march. Agitation Rising has video of all speakers at the rally and the march around the quad.

Shortly after the rally, after nearly six months of negotiation, the need for a federal mediator, numerous pickets and rallies, and the threat of a strike ISU finally offered a real contract on April 14 that was subsequently approved by the membership. ISU states, on their website about the AFSCME negotiations, “Throughout these negotiations, the University was committed to negotiating a wage package that provided competitive increases for all employees in the bargaining unit, with a particular focus on those employees in the unit currently making less than $15.00/hour. All of our wage proposals in these negotiations reflected this commitment.”

This statement could not be further from the truth. Despite the stalling, the lies, and the hardship caused by the administration, ISU workers were able to get what they deserved, a fair contract.

You may follow AFSCME Council 31, which local 1110 is a part of, on Facebook.


Zach Carlson
Zach Carlson

Zach Carlson is a graduate student and full-time worker at Illinois State University, where he is pursuing a masters in history, specializing in left and labor history. A self-proclaimed nerd, casual outdoorsmen, and wearer of many hats, Zach looks to move on to his Ph.D. He is also a member of Industrial Union 620 with the Industrial Workers of the World.