City Colleges Of Chicago Clerical Workers Suspend Strike

City Colleges of Chicago clerical workers rally Wednesday in the Loop after going on strike.
City Colleges of Chicago clerical workers rally Wednesday in the Loop after going on strike. Kate McGee / WBEZ
City Colleges of Chicago clerical workers rally Wednesday in the Loop after going on strike.
City Colleges of Chicago clerical workers rally Wednesday in the Loop after going on strike. Kate McGee / WBEZ

City Colleges Of Chicago Clerical Workers Suspend Strike

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Updated at 7:39 a.m.

Clerical workers at the City Colleges of Chicago have come to a tentative contract agreement after a one-day strike.

More than 450 administrative workers walked off the job Wednesday demanding better pay and working conditions. Details of the new agreement were not immediately available. Both sides still need to ratify the contract.

In a joint statement released early Thursday, City Colleges and the union said the strike was suspended and they are “proud to announce that we have come to a tentative agreement. We are dedicated to our work and our students and eager to get back to work.”

After working three years without a contract, more than 450 unionized employees went on strike Wednesday.

“We … work as hard as everyone else in this building and that has to be recognized,” Sherri Hayden, the administrative employee in the math department at Harold Washington College in the Loop, said during a rally near the school Wednesday afternoon.

The strike meant many departments, including financial aid, admissions and tutoring, had to cut back hours. They were depending on supervisors to serve students just three days before commencement and two weeks before the last day of classes.

“It’s a disservice to the students,” said Vanessa Johnson, who has worked in the business office at Harold Washington College for 12 years and walked off the job Wednesday. She and her colleagues help students with everything from tuition payment plans and class registration, to providing students with money cards to use school printers.

“We have students not only paying for graduation and paying outstanding tuition but also students who are registering for summer and fall,” Johnson said. “It’s a very crucial time.”

In a statement, a City Colleges spokeswoman insisted the administration values faculty and staff.

“City Colleges is committed to reaching a contract that recognizes the work of our clerical and technical staff,” said spokeswoman Katheryn Hayes in the statement. “In the meantime, we will do all that we can to minimize the impact of a strike on our students.”

The clerical and technical workers were joined by union representatives at a press conference Wednesday afternoon, including Randi Weingarten, the national president of the American Federation of Teachers. The clerical workers union is an affiliate of the national AFT. Weingarten was in Chicago to rally with local charter school teachers who are also expected to strike after school on Wednesday.

City Colleges administrative employees said they feel disrespected by the colleges’ administration at the bargaining table. Representatives from their union, Local 1708, allege that City Colleges officials arrive late to meetings without substantive proposals and consistently cancel meetings which prolongs negotiations.

City Colleges officials did not immediately respond to those charges.

Clerical workers grew especially frustrated after City Colleges negotiated a new contract with the faculty union in January, just six months after their contract expired. Administrative employees filled the City College’s Board of Trustees meeting in March demanding they receive fair treatment at the bargaining table.

The union also said City Colleges has refused to fill vacant positions in many of their departments, increasing employee workloads and negatively affecting the student experience.

“If a person were to retire, be terminated or resign, they would not backfill those positions and they would drop the work on other people,” said Brent Michalak, a lab technician in the art department at Harold Washington College. “We need them to hire so we can reduce workload issues.”

Added Dolores Withers, president of Local 1708: “Since our union is primarily made of women and young men who are head of households, single parents, supporting their families, we’re asking the city to acknowledge cost of living in this city has severely increased,” she said. “Come to the table with a proposal that will allow workers to respect the dignity of being an employee of the city of Chicago.”

Kate McGee covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter at @WBEZeducation and @McGeeReports.