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Report for America is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. This year's cohort has been placed with more than 160 local news organizations across 45 states and Puerto Rico, including two journalists right here at WNIJ. We are thrilled to announce the addition of JuanPablo Ramirez-Franco to our news team, and a new role for WNIJ reporter Yvonne Boose.Yvonne Boose covers artistic, cultural, and spiritual expressions in the COVID-19 era. This includes how members of community cultural groups are finding creative and innovative ways to enrich their personal lives through these expressions individually and within the context of their larger communities.Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco covers substandard housing and police-community relations. An audio producer and journalist based out of Chicago, he’s also been a bilingual facilitator at the StoryCorps office.He will continue Sarah Jesmer’s award-winning work at WNIJ covering issues of social justice and identity. Jesmer earned a top award from the Illinois Associated Press for reports including: Inside DeKalb County's Unincorporated Apartments; Wigs, Lipstick & Sparkles: The Thriving Drag Scene In Northern Illinois; and Kish College: Anonymous Letters And A Controversial Investigation.These reporting positions come at a time when local journalism is already reeling from years of newsroom cuts and unforeseen challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.Both positions are partially funded by a grant from Report for America. WNIJ must raise an additional $30,000 in local matching funds. Support these important voices in our community by donating to WNIJ’s portion here.Yvonne and Juanpablo’s stories on our community will be collected below.

SEIU Local 73 Reaches Agreement With UIC, Strike Over

Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco
Dian Palmer Announces Over Zoom Strike is Over

SEIU Local 73 confirmed that its bargaining units reached contract agreements with the University of Illinois at Chicago after more than a week on strike. Workers returned this morning.

SEIU member Alicia Uwumarogie confirmed, “The strike is over and that we are leaving the picket lines victorious in so many areas.”

The “wins” in the new agreements include increases in shift differentials, bilingual pay for hospital workers and the workers of the division of specialized care for children.

All four bargaining agreements have language against outsourcing and commitments to safe staffing levels and to fill vacancies. SEIU president Dian Palmer said, “This strike has served as a powerful symbol to essential workers everywhere, working through this pandemic, that together, we can win.”

The professional unit gained establishment of annual market analysis to ensure that their wages stay on par with market wages. Uwumarogie said that this will keep pay from becoming stagnant and falling far behind current rates.

Additionally, the professional unit said they will see new hire and midterm salary adjustments to allow for raises when new employees are hired at rates higher than current employees. Moreover, criteria will be established for implementing raises for individuals with outstanding performance and achievement. 

Lastly, the professional unit will receive incentives for additional certifications relevant to their work.

All four agreements include expanded language around equal pay and inequity. According to Uwumarogie, these developments “will give us the ability to address the favoritism occurring in some departments and it prevents retaliation related to wages.” 

All 4,000 workers now have guarantees related to hazard pay during states of emergency such as the current pandemic.

All UIC workers in Chicago will now make at least $15 per hour, and Rockford workers will receive a raise of $.50 per hour. 

The new contract that will be ratified next week includes annualized raises of 2% increase in the first year, 1% in the second year,1.5% in the third year and 1.5% in the fourth year. And that is on top of step increases that are already built into the contract.

Only three of the four bargaining units get step increases. The professional and DSCC workers are exempt.


  • Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco is a 2020 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project which is a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms.