Northern Illinois University employees fight for better wages

Six employees share stories about their need to rely on food banks and Medicaid to get by.
Published: Sep. 21, 2023 at 5:13 PM CDT
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DEKALB, Ill. (WIFR) - Northern Illinois University (NIU) employees fight for what they say is their right to earn a living wage at the school’s Board of Trustees meeting Thursday.

“Stop the new people coming in that are coming in making more money than the incumbents, stop the compression where the new people are almost at the same spot, as well as rewarding those employees that have been here for many years,” said Rave Meyer, AFSCME Local 1890 president.

Six NIU employees stepped to the podium at Thursday’s Board of Trustees meeting to explain why they deserve a higher wage and share stories about their need to rely on food banks and Medicaid to get by.

“People that were hired after me in academic departments that are smaller than psychology, same job title, and they make more than me,” said Nicole Adams, Department of Psychology office manager. “Is that fair? Is that equitable?”

Adams is a graduate student and works as an office manager making $17 an hour at NIU. She finds other grad students earn more money working a part-time job,

“It keeps me in poverty meaning when I file my taxes at the end of the year, the federal government automatically puts me on Medicaid,” she said.

Two dozen NIU employees, all members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union (AFSCME) showed up Thursday at the university’s Board of Trustees meeting.

“NIU is paying extremely low wages pretty much anywhere that’s not the top, the top end of the administration here,” said Patrick Sheridan AFSCME local 963 president. “I think a lot of people are frustrated because year after year we see the administration give themselves raises over and over again.”

In a university statement regarding the fight for better wages:

“NIU is actively bargaining with representation from the American Federation of State and County Municipal workers 1890 (AFSCME), which represents our clerical and administrative professionals. Progress is being made as the bargaining teams met on Monday, Sept. 18, 2023, and are scheduled to meet again the first week of October. On the key economic issues raised by AFSCME members, the last offer NIU submitted contained wage increases, salary increments, compensation for years of service, and money to address inversion. NIU remains committed to bargaining in good faith and working with AFSCME to develop a contract reflective of that unit’s membership and goals.”

“Even though the raises we have been able to accomplish are small, it’s not keeping up with the cost of living, it’s not keeping up with inflation,” Meyer said.

Meyer makes $19.76 an hour as an office manager at the university and says she’s among the highest-paid people in that position.

“There are people here who have been here 10, 15, 20 years that don’t make what I make,” she said.

Union supporter Stephanie Price says their fight is about making a living wage.

“I have come to befriend a lot of employees that have been here and have dedicated their lives for decades and they’re not making much more than I am,” she said.

Sheridan says he makes $20.56 an hour after 11 hours in Camus Dining Services and is considered a 9-month employee but because of winter and spring breaks, he only gets paid 7 1/2 months of the year.

“We don’t want to be the lowest paying university employees of the state,” Price said. “We would like a fair wage so that, you know, we can take care of our families and pursue our own goals.”