A federal mediator waded into the almost two-year contract dispute between the City Colleges of Chicago and AFL-CIO Local 1708, which represents city college clerical and technical workers, as the workers staged a protest today outside City College headquarters. The dispute comes amid an ambitious “reinvention” of the system: Rahm Emanuel has declared city colleges the “frontline of our new economy.”
But Local 1708 President Delores Withers argues that the reinvention has ignored “frontline workers” like the financial aid assistants, lab assistants, mail clerks and other “faces” of city colleges, which are made up of seven community colleges and enroll more than 100,000 students.
The union estimates that about 400 full-time and 200 part-time workers are affected by the dispute. The part-time workers don’t have a collective bargaining contract and full-time employees have not had a contract since June 30, 2010. "We've been in contract negotiations for over two years for full-time workers," Withers says, "and almost a year for part-time."
Withers contends that “the district has proposed is a five-year wage freeze” for both full- and part-timers. She adds that city colleges want part-time workers to effectively pay 60 percent to 80 percent more in health care premiums.
City colleges officials say in a statement that they have successfully focused on reducing expenses by $30 million since their reinvention launched 18 months ago.
“Our non-union employees and management have not had a raise since 2008,” the statement reads. “We are asking Local 1708 to hold the line on certain aspects of compensation so we can continue to focus maximum resources on the classroom and on programs designed to match Chicagoans with available jobs."
City colleges reps added that they could not comment on whether they might raise employees wages or make concessions on health care, citing ongoing negotations.
Local 1708 workers, though, are skeptical about shouldering the costs of the reinvention, as evidenced by their protest outside City College’s downtown headquarters:
As for how a federal mediator may reshape matters, Withers clarified that the newly-involved mediator will only deal with the full-time contract and that the local “is still in open negotiations with the part-time contract.” City colleges representatives noted that they are committed to continued “good faith and constructive” negotiations.
Both sides agree that the city colleges is in major transition. The reinvention is partly centered on more vocational programs: Last month Mayor Emanuel announced a “college to careers” plan with an early focus on health care and transportation jobs.
Also, Cheryl Hyman – who ex-mayor Richard Daley named as city college chancellor in 2010 – has ruffled feathers among city faculty. Hyman replaced four of the city college’s seven presidents and let go 225 non-instructional employees.