‘We Are Human Resources, Not Human Sacrifices,’ Triton Workers Tell Board At Tense Meeting

Wednesday, August 28, 2019 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews

Featured image: Triton College employees during a board meeting on Aug. 27. | Michael Romain

On Aug. 27, a few hundred mid-managers and full-time classified employees packed the small second-floor conference room on the campus of Triton College, where a Board of Trustees meeting was in session, to demand a 4 percent pay raise.

“I feel valued within my department, but not by you,” Ruby Hilker, a financial aid specialist, told board members, adding that classified workers are “treated as disposable” and that the board and administration “should be ashamed” of themselves for how they’ve handled the negotiations.

The two union contracts covering 145 classified employees (including financial aid specialists, catalogers, account clerks and library specialists, among others) and 65 mid-managers (including health services directors, assistance finance directors and career services directors, among others) expired on June 30, 2019 and are still being negotiated. The workers said that they’ll go on strike if their terms aren’t met. 

Charles Harper, a field director for Cook County College Teachers Union Local 1600, which represents the workers, said during a phone interview on Aug. 27 that there is no specific deadline for when workers will decide on a strike. The union has put in a request from the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board for mediation. They’re still waiting on a mediator to be assigned, he said. 

During Tuesday’s board meeting, the workers reiterated their demand for a pay increase and stinging criticisms of the college’s administration that they’ve been making for the last several weeks. The mass action was the second demonstration in less than a week that the workers held to bring awareness to their cause. On Aug. 22, around 100 workers presented petitions to Triton College President Mary-Rita Moore.

Administrators, Harper said, are asking the workers to “sell pieces of their contract and their time” for the 4-percent pay raise. 

“The two contracts are being worked out separately, but with each one the college is asking for some variation of working more to buy a bit of a raise,” Harper said, before comparing the proposed raise to the 14- to 20-percent pay raises he said administrators have received in the past.

Harper said that during the last round of contract negotiations, administrators told the two groups of employees “to be team players and take less of a raise,” because of massive budget cuts to community college funding made under former Gov. Bruce Rauner.

“Now that the state has committed to restoring funding to community colleges, the administration is not recognizing [the employees’ sacrifice],” Harper said. 

Tony Johnson, the president of Cook County College Teachers Union, Local 1600, said during the board meeting the workers have already sacrificed enough before blasting the administration’s spending practices — echoing a dominant theme during these negotiations.

“The two words that come to mind regarding this situation are sacrifice and priorities,” Johnson said. “We’ve already been told of how our members need to sacrifice, but now you keep coming back asking for more.” 

Johnson referenced a 2019 salary report by the Illinois Community College Board, which shows that the average administrator at Triton was paid a salary of nearly $124,000 last fiscal year — the sixth-highest average among community colleges in the state, but roughly middle of the pack among the community colleges in Triton’s seven-member peer group.

In fiscal year 2018, the average salaries of administrators, other professional employees and classified employees were $125,910, $71,601 and $42,832, respectively, according to the report.

Johnson also criticized the administration’s practice of spending money on mailers that go out to every home in Triton’s district. 

“There is no other community college that wastes the amount on advertising that most people now realize is not effective,” Johnson said. “The priorities are skewed. We say enough! Stop asking for sacrifices and get your priorities straight.” 

The employees have also said that the new stairway installed outside of Triton’s administration building cost more than the money it would take to fund the workers’ pay raises, although they have not provided any specific figures supporting the claim. 

Triton College Faculty Association President Joe Dusek said that he was told that it’s the board’s policy not to give raises of more than a few percentage points and that raises are to be retroactive. 

“In terms of the next Faculty Association negotiations, I’m going to use every ounce of influence I have to make sure we do not go through what these two groups are going through,” Dusek said. 

“We are human resources, not human sacrifices,” said Cassandra Hutchinson, a web systems analyst. “We deserve a contract that is fair and respects our contributions to Triton College. We are not going to be comfortable in our discomfort. I can’t do that anymore.” 

Triton Board Chairman Mark Stephens provided a terse response to workers as they filed out of the board room after the meeting’s public comment portion ended.

“Please come to our meetings,” he told the workers, adding that by attending the meetings, they’d understand more about why the board makes its decisions. 

The latter part of Stephens’ remarks were interrupted by workers chanting “Fair contract now!” as they made their way out of the board room, down the staircase and outside to take a group photograph on that new administration building entryway. VFP

Contact: thevillagefreepress@gmail.com | Facebook: @maywoodnews

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