According to UIC Administration, graduate workers earn more than enough money to lead healthy lives, but the reality couldn’t be more different. Not one graduate worker reported earning more than $40,000 on their 2018 W2 from UIC, and 90% of respondents reported earning less than $25,000–just 200% above the federal poverty line, and far below the $66,000 recommended to live comfortably in Chicago. 9 out of 10 graduate workers report worrying about having enough income to pay their monthly bills, and only about one-third of graduate workers (31%) can afford to pay for an emergency $400 expense in full.

Contract

Many graduate workers don’t know if they will have a job to support themselves more than a few days before the scheduled start of their appointment. The lack of transparency about hiring and rehiring makes it difficult to know if they can keep their job through their time at UIC. 6 in 10 (63%) grad workers did not  know if they would have a job more than the required 45 days in advance. This uncertainty makes it impossible to budget and plan for the future, and adds to graduate workers’ stress and anxiety.

As UIC employees, over half (57%) of graduate workers have had to skip meals because they didn’t have enough money for food. A variety of negative physical and mental health outcomes are associated with food insecurity, including diabetes, obesity, hypertension, poor sleep, decreased nutrient intake, increased mental health problems and depression, and lower self-rated health. Additionally, food insecurity is also associated with decreased academic performance, lower GPAs, and housing insecurity.

Housing insecurity is defined by a number of factors, including the inability to pay rent or utilities, or instability, which includes moving multiple times per year or living in overcrowded environments. 8 out of 10 (81°/4) of graduate workers reported experiencing housing burdens, meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on housing, and a third (31%) have had trouble paying their rent or mortgage in the last 12 months. Over three-quarters (77%) of graduate workers reported having to choose between paying for basic necessities (i.e. choosing between paying for medicine or buying groceries, paying tuition/fees or paying for rent).

Low wages, high fees, and employment precarity have led to 8 out of 10 graduate workers experiencing anxiety, and 7 out of 10 experiencing depression
since being employed by UIC. However, only about one-third (36%) of graduate workers have the resources and support to access the mental health care they need. Less than half (44%) of graduate workers with chronic health conditions have the financial resources to properly manage their care.

If UIC is serious about the health and welfare of grad workers, they would start by improving wages, reducing fees, and making hiring processes more transparent and equitable.

There are a number of major consequences for low wages, high fees, and lack of hiring transparency. Employment precarity as well as food and housing insecurity hurts grad workers’ academic success–it’s hard to focus on your work and studies when you’re concerned about where your next meal is coming from or whether or not you’ll be able to afford rent. When graduate workers suffer, their work suffers as well: worker stress and anxiety are associated with decreased productivity, higher turnover, and both absenteeism (missing work for being sick) and presenteeism (going to work despite being sick).

These challenges often overlap, and are more likely to be experienced by students of color or first generation graduate students. It is clear that the current wage and fee structure leaves graduate workers with too little
income to support a healthy life, harming their physical and mental health, and making it harder for students to succeed academically and support their students. In order to address the health inequities affecting graduate workers, UIC administration must prioritize ensuring that all of its students have access to the resources they need to be healthy. This means raising wages, reducing fees, and making hiring practices more transparent and fair.
Tell Chancellor Amiridis (chancellor@uic.edu) to give grad workers a healthy contract now.


References:

Benach. J., Vives, A., Amable, M., Vanroelen, C. Tarafa, G., & Muntaner, C. (2014). Precarious employment: understanding an emerging social determinant of health. Annual review of public health, 35, 229-253.

Goldrick-Rab, S., Richardson, J., & Hernandez, A. (2017). Hungry and homeless in college: Results from a national study of basic needs insecurity in higher education. Madison, WI: Wisconsin HOPE Lab

Student hunger on campus: Food insecurity among college students and implications for academic institutions. American Journal of Health Promotion, 32(2), 349-354

Today was our 28th bargaining session, the sixth since the strike began.

As mentioned in yesterday’s bargaining update, today’s session was proposed to GEO at the last minute, so we agreed to only meet for an hour. The administration told us they still will not consider waiving, capping, or freezing fees, except to offset the planned $50-per-semester increase to the General Fee with a matching increase to the campus minimum wage next year only. They also didn’t offer us any new proposal on wages or healthcare.
We informed them this wasn’t acceptable, and we did not schedule another meeting. Continuing their game of tag over who gave the last proposal, they asked us to stay an extra 15 minutes so they could give us the exact same proposal they gave us yesterday, before leaving. We then emailed them our same proposal from today, reminding them the ball is still in their court so there would be no confusion.
This game of “who handed the last proposal” is juvenile and inane. The reality is that we are on strike and will remain on strike until the administration takes serious action on both fees and wages, and the admins already know this very well. The people who get paid handsome sums of money to run this university have the responsibility and the authority to end this strike by giving us a fair contract, but they simply refuse to do it.
Further, it was recently brought to our attention that the administration is telling department heads to urge faculty to take on the duties of grad workers. This has already resulted in some department heads sending out innocuous-sounding emails over the last couple days asking if there’s anything they can do to support TAs or their students. This is obviously strikebreaking, but the administration is describing it as “serving our undergraduates.” But undergrads have overwhelmingly expressed their support for our strike and have directly asked the chancellor and provost to settle a fair contract. If admins really want to serve the undergraduates, they should start listening to them.
This Monday, April 1st, marks GEO’s return to regular picket lines after spring break (updated logistics document here).  On Monday, we’ll have a rally in the quad at 12 followed by a free performance at 12:15 by striking musicians with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra outside the Science and Engineering Laboratory (SEL).
Everyone should return to the regular shifts they signed up for before we went on strike as well as come out for shifts at any other times they can make it.  This week will be crucial to our success!
In solidarity,
GEO Bargaining Team

Today was our 27th bargaining session, the fifth since the strike began.

At the beginning of the session, the administration still did not have a counter to our proposal on fees or to our proposal on the right of GEO to not be denied access to departmental orientations for new TAs to inform them of their workplace rights. They still demanded that we step down further on our wages proposal, with nothing in return. In an effort to move things forward, we offered to make some movement in exchange for them agreeing to our proposal on access to departmental orientations, since this is a non-economic proposal that wouldn’t cost the university a penny. They rejected this offer.

Then, literally 5 minutes before the session ended, they finally gave us a counter-proposal addressing fees. Their proposal is to create a side letter to the contract saying in academic year 2019-20 only, the planned $50-per-semester increase to the General Fee will be offset with a matching increase to the campus minimum wage. This means that next year only, anyone making the campus minimum would see an extra $50 per semester, presumably in addition to whatever raise we get. The side letter also says that next year only, the university will not increase the cost of the International Student Fee. However, there was already no plan to increase this fee next year that anyone is aware of.

At that same moment we were given this proposal–with 5 minutes left in the session–we were told the admins would be on campus to meet with us tomorrow and expected us to show up, even though these sessions are supposed to be and have always been scheduled by mutual agreement. We’ve held three sessions this week, and only at the last minute today they gave us something on fees and pressured us into coming in on a Saturday to give our counter offer.

After the session ended, the GEO bargaining team put together a package proposal on all the outstanding issues, including fees, wages, and healthcare. On fees, we are still seeking that most of the General Fee and International Student Fee be waived and that any new fees automatically be waived until GEO can negotiate them. On wages, we’re seeking a 24 percent increase by the 2020-2021 academic year, which would still have us making $5,000-$9,000 less than our counterparts at Chicago’s other Research 1 universities. And on healthcare, we’re still seeking a cap on the Campus Care fee and for the university to partially cover the cost of dependent care. For a university that has been throwing around a lot of money on new buildings and huge bonuses for top administrators–a university that claims it wants to be attractive to working-class students, students of color, and international students–we feel this is all very reasonable and doable.

We emailed this proposal to the admins this afternoon, saying they can take a look at it now and we will come in tomorrow to meet for one hour, from 12 to 1, in UH 650, to see if they have any response. We also let them know that in the future we will refuse any sessions proposed in the manner in which this one was proposed. They’ve been playing a game of tag on who hands which proposal last, forcing us to waste our time. But they now have our counter-proposal on all outstanding issues and we will be there for an hour tomorrow in an effort to settle the strike. The ball is in their court.

In solidarity,
GEO Bargaining Team