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Chicago City College teachers fight union-busting contract
"We're ready to walk out"

By Orlando Sepúlveda | September 17, 2004 | Page 11

CHICAGO--About 200 faculty members of the Cook County College Teachers Union, Local 1600 of American Federation of Teachers, picketed at the Chicago City Colleges (CCC) administration building September 9 in a fight for a new contract. Union members are outraged at the administration's contract offer, which includes a zero pay increase for four years and a huge increase in health care costs.

The administration wants an HMO plan that would increase the yearly costs for family coverage from $820 to $4,400. The deal would also eliminate sick day conversion and includes severe cuts in retirement benefits as well as the complete loss of health care for retirees.

"These are the most extreme demands I've ever seen," said Mike Ruggeri, a union representative in Harold Washington College. "They are totally out of line in terms of educational institutions...and because of the low pay scale of most teachers, it could mean bankruptcy for many of them."

Nerhu Nicosia, a CCC retiree, along with his wife, suffered a reduction of health care benefits. "Now we pay $610 a month from the $320 we used to pay, and on top of that, they took away our prescription medicine and dental plans," he said.

Indeed, while these sick demands are imposed on teachers, the top-level administrators get juicy perks, including free lifetime health care coverage for themselves and their families after seven years of service. And while faculty pay 8 percent of their salaries toward pensions, administrators' contributions are taken care of by the city. What's more, every administrator gets a $500 per month transportation allowance, among other benefits.

The administration's demand for cuts shows Larry Ross, who has taught full-time for four years, where its priorities are. "The politics of these folks is more for them and less for us," he told Socialist Worker.

For faculty members the stakes are very high. In a letter to union members, Local 1600 President Perry Buckley, wrote, "From the current administration, to our state legislature, to our boards and presidents, we, as educators, are under the worst attack we have seen in decades."

On the picket line, Mike Ruggeri confirmed this idea. "It is not only Bush who would not give city colleges any more money than he gave to the No Child Left Behind program, but also here in the Illinois State legislature we have a problem. The Democratic majority made it illegal for us to use the e-mail and phone systems of our educational structure to discuss educational and contractual issues. They are moving toward more censorship of academic freedom and more oppression of labor."

Elia López, a Spanish professor at Truman College, explained that the shortage of full-time faculty has already pushed class sizes and teaching loads to the limit. If the administration has its way, the workload will get far worse. The new contract calls for faculty to publish scholarly articles on an annual basis. "They expect us to publish like we're at an elite university like Northwestern, but when? When do we get the time?" López said.

The union has called for mediation as a first step in the process of calling for a strike vote around the end of September. A strike could happen as early as mid-October. "Believe it," the faculty told the administration in one of their chants, "we'll walk!"

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