Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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NU labor union members receive wage increases in 3-year contract

Members of labor union Local 681 voted in favor of a new three-year contract with Northwestern on Thursday, resolving several weeks of negotiations.

According to the terms of the agreement, the union’s 89 members will receive an annual 3.25 percent wage increase for each of the next three years.

Local 681 represents a variety of Northwestern’s laborers, including many of its carpenters, groundskeepers, locksmiths and custodians, as well as storekeepers on the Chicago campus.

Only 61 of the union’s workers attended the meeting, said James May, a Chicago campus storekeeper. He said the vote was split 43-to-18, with laborers from the Evanston campus favoring the measure and Chicago workers rejecting it. Union President Thomas Penning would neither confirm nor deny that tally.

May and several of his fellow shopkeepers agreed that the new contract disproportionately favored higher paid workers. A 3 percent raise means a lot more for a painter or carpenter making $30 an hour than for a storekeeper making about $13, they said.

Carpenters and painters from the Chicago campus voted against the contract, May said, to protest the treatment of the shopkeepers.

“They were fighting for us,” he said.

Early in the bargaining process, union members staged their first-ever public protest, distributing flyers outside of Ryan Field during NU’s Oct. 8 football game against the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The union claimed NU was offering an unfairly low pay raise that would not keep up with the cost of living. Members found NU’s most recent offer more acceptable, Penning said.

“They were satisfied,” he said. “They weren’t super happy, and they weren’t super disappointed.”

The union rejected an optional two-year contract extension, during which the members would have received a 3.5 percent annual raise.

“They were willing to accept the three years and take it from there,” Penning said. “Had the money been higher, they probably would have gone for a fourth and fifth year, but the money wasn’t enough to get them to a fourth and fifth year.”

By rejecting the two-year extension, 681 members are betting that by the time the new contract expires, the labor market will improve enough so that they will be able to renegotiate on better terms.

“It’s a gamble either way, whether you go five years or you go three years,” Penning said. “It’s an unknown. If I had a crystal ball, if I knew that, I’d be the most sought-after man in the United States.”

University administrators said they were pleased with the negotiations and that workers had responded positively to their offer.

“We’ve talked to the members and obviously the majority of them were happy with the package because the majority of them voted for it,” said Ron Nayler, associate vice president for facilities management and a member of the negotiations committee. “And the majority of the workers that our staff has had contact with have said they thought it was a very fair package.”

The agreement with Local 681 should not affect future negotiations with other unions such as Local 399, which will meet later this month to discuss a new contract, Nayler said. Each union’s contract is distinct, and they have little effect on one another, he said.

“We negotiate with each union. There are always different pieces of the contract that different unions come in to negotiate,” Nayler said. “We try not to negotiate one union’s contract with another.”

Reach Jordan Weissmann at [email protected].

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NU labor union members receive wage increases in 3-year contract