Key staff at Triton College in Chicago went on strike Nov. 6, demanding the administration give them a fair contract that respects their work and their professionalism.
“We don’t take setting a strike date lightly, but we strongly feel this is what’s necessary as we stand up for ourselves and the Triton community we all love,” said Kay Frey, president of the Triton Mid-Managers Chapter of the Cook County College Teachers Union, when the strike date was set Oct. 31. “We have been pushed to this point by an administration that refuses to take our needs seriously and respect our abilities. Many of us put in a lot of extra hours without recognition for our efforts, but yet that’s not enough. Mid-managers feel disrespected, devalued and underpaid.”
The “mid-managers” in this unit support students all over campus with student advising, registration, career services, continuing education, adult education and financial aid; they make sure the college’s webpage is up-to-date, provide testing services for students, run the Center for Access and Accommodative Services and work on student activities. In short, they are the backbone of student services. But a third of them have left the college due to low pay: Frey says members are finding their pay to be about 20 percent less than colleagues at other area colleges.
On top of that, the 63-member unit has been working without a contract since June 30. Sticking points in contract negotiations are the imposition of 16 hours of extra work during the year (fit into weekends and evenings), a proposed 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. work schedule that is out of alignment with the needs of the many students who attend night classes and need services outside conventional daytime office hours, and retroactive pay. Union members accepted lower pay during a state budget freeze (the result of a standoff with then-Gov. Bruce Rauner), and refusing them retroactive pay—a standard provision in union contracts—“is an insult to Triton professional staff who have sacrificed for the college in the past,” says the union.
Administrators have dug their heels in, and in a particularly troubling move, they posted the mid-managers’ jobs on the college “job openings” website Nov. 4. “The college evidently feels we are replaceable,” says Frey, but the “scare tactic” has only strengthened their resolve.
“The mid-managers at Triton are deeply committed to serving their students,” says Tony Johnston, president of CCCTU. “Don’t think for a minute they’ll back down because the college threatens to replace them. No, they are on strike to stand up for the working and learning conditions they know they need to ensure their students succeed, and the entire CCCTU stands with them.”
“You teach, you educate those who struggle and those who strive,” AFT President Randi Weingarten told the mid-managers as she rallied with them Nov. 6. “Your work is important.”
“This college does not work without you,” said Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. “The students can't get what they need without you. It is time that Triton College come to their senses and get you what you need.”