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AFSCME still bargaining after 8 months

Kim+Pope+works+as+the+president+of+AFCSME+Local+981+and+as+the+office+manager+in+the+College+of+Liberal+Arts+and+Sciences+in+Doudna+Fine+Arts+Center.
Cam’ron Hardy
Kim Pope works as the president of AFCSME Local 981 and as the office manager in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in Doudna Fine Arts Center.

Agreements on discipline and health and safety have been made between Eastern’s administration and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), but negotiations regarding pay continue after eight months.

AFSCME consists of the clerical/technical unit, building services and food services workers. 

Kim Pope, the President of AFSCME Local 981 and the office manager for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, has been leading the negotiations. 

AFSCME and Eastern have met 13 times since May 2023, and, according to Pope, have made “significant progress.” 

Compared to previous negotiations between AFSCME and administration, things have been moving faster, Pope said. 

“We’ve been able to come to an agreement on language that’s not related to economics, such as things related to discipline, health and safety, things like that,” Pope said. 

The core debate between both parties is the pay increase. 

One of the new laws that went into action Jan. 1 was a minimum wage increase to $14 per hour, and some of the ASFCME members are being paid this rate. Pope said that they have been bargaining to be paid $16 per hour. The university has agreed to some increases, but not the full $16 per hour, she said. 

“We do have several employees in our bargaining unit who are making minimum wage of $14 an hour, and we feel it’s just not acceptable for employees who are providing such vital services for the university,” Pope said. 

Pope said many of AFSCME’s workers are student oriented and focused on helping the students. 

“What we do is essential to the university, and we feel like, in these positions, we should be paid appropriately for the work that we do,” Pope said. “That’s why we feel [the need] to be competitive.” 

AFSCME members that previously worked at Eastern have left to work at other jobs, Pope said, because of the pay. 

“We’ve had employees recently who are leaving to go work at Taco Bell or McDonald’s because they’re finding better paying positions there. In order to make improvements upon that, wages need to be increased significantly,” she said. 

The absence of workers has left the remaining employees with more work and responsibilities. Some of Pope’s colleagues have to cover multiple departments due to the lack of staff. 

Pope referred to the state-wide budget crisis in 2015 as being one of the leading causes for the lack of staff. 

According to Pope, there were a few hundred employees who were laid off at Eastern during that time. 

The main topic AFSCME is optimistic about is the increase in wages this year. Pope said throughout her 13 years at Eastern, she has seen no more than a 1.5% increase in wages. 

Due to inflation, the cost of living has increased, and it has not been compensated for. 

“The university is just not keeping up with all of that, and so people are taking home less money per paycheck,” Pope said. 

During the bargaining sessions, Pope talked about a study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Illinois Economic Policy Institute titled “Lower Pay in Higher Ed,” which talks about the pay gap between state employees and university workers. 

“What the study revealed was that state workers are paid on average 21% more than university employees,” Pope said. “So, we’re doing the same work, but university employees are being paid 21% less on average for some reason.” 

Pope said she believes the reason for this is the decrease of funding in schools. 

At the state level, an office manager is paid $30 per hour; at the university level, that same position is paid $21 per hour. At Eastern, that same position is paid minimum wage, but all are doing the same job, said Pope. 

“We’ve told management there’s some significant work that needs to be done to make up for this gap in pay. It’s something that AFSCME statewide is focusing on as well, because it’s not just an Eastern problem,” Pope said. 

Pope said she was alarmed to see the difference in pay. 

The 14th bargaining session is on Wednesday. 

Pope said she intends for the meeting to take up most of the day. 

“We’re willing to do what it takes to get this done and get a fair contract for our members,” Pope said. 

When asked for comment, Joshua Reinhart—EIU’s public information coordinator—said, “As a general policy, EIU does not comment on active negotiations.” 

 

Cam’ron Hardy can be reached at 581-2812 or at [email protected]. 

 

 

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Cam’ron Hardy
Cam’ron Hardy, News Editor
Cam'ron is a junior journalism major. He previously served news editor and campus editor at The News. 

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