AFSCME Local 981 pickets, gains support

Corryn Brock, News Editor

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 981, the union representing Eastern’s building service workers, cooks, kitchen laborers, clerical workers and technical workers, picketed Tuesday with the support of members of other unions, students and those driving past.

AFSCME is seeking a contract after an eight-month long struggle with Eastern to reach an agreement. The members of the union say they are only seeking what is fair.

Specifically, AFSCME members are seeking a fair wage increase, to retain control over their schedules and to reject the university’s desire to abolish dining employees’ jobs through subcontracting.

Around fifty people came to the picket to stand with the union and support their cause.

Natalie Nagel, staff representative for AFSCME Council #31, said before the union’s last meeting with Eastern’s administration that the union’s work throughout the pandemic is a big reason why she believes they deserve the contract they are currently seeking.

“They have worked through the whole pandemic and they are the reason that Eastern can be open this Fall and this Spring. They are doing the disinfecting, they spent the summer getting housing units ready for students when they had to isolate. The clericals spent hours and hours and days and days converting classes to online formats and making sure that students were registered correctly,” Nagel said. “It’s been a hard year and they’ve worked really hard to make sure that this school year could happen and I really think they deserve credit. They’re not asking for anything astronomical, they just want to be treated fairly and with respect.”

During the union’s last negotiating session, members of the union and some supporters came to participate in a demonstration outside of the room the negotiation was happening in. On Tuesday, the union saw a large increase in support.

Kaden Howard, a freshman English major, and Stain Davis-Shelton, a freshman art major, said they wanted to support the AFSCME members because they believe they deserve a fair contract.

“These people work so hard for us and they deserve all the help they can get and equal pay,” Howard said.

Howard added that he appreciates the work members of AFSCME do for the university.

“They do everything for us; they keep our school clean, shovel our sidewalks in the winter, they put themselves at risk as frontline workers,” Howard. “They deserve all of our support.”

Davis-Shelton said ASCFME member deserve what they are asking for.

“They work hard every day, they should have their fair contract.”

Jeannie Ludlow, president of Eastern’s chapter of the University Professionals of Illinois, came to support during both of the union’s demonstrations.

“I get a lot of kudos for being good at my job but I could not be good at my job if all of these people were not good at their jobs. They need and deserve to be respected as much as I do and they need a fair wage as much as I do.”

Coles County Democrats President Mac White said he was there to support the union workers on behalf of his party.

“I want the union people to know that the Democratic Party stands behind all labor, all the time,” White said.

Ludlow said without AFSCME members the university and surrounding community could not thrive.

“Our students are kept safe and fed and able to learn by the work of the people standing here today and EIU is such an important part of this community and it would fall into the ground if these folks were not here,” Ludlow said. “This community needs the work that these folks bring to us and we should all be supporting them for exactly that reason.”

White said the workers deserve fair compensation.

“These people have worked really, really hard since the pandemic hit and they are not being compensated for all of this extra hard work that they’re doing and it’s time that they get compensated and everybody needs to help them.”

AFSCME will meet with the university tomorrow regarding their contract negotiations.

 

Corryn Brock can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected]