Fellow Graduate Employees,

The United Faculty strike is here. After months of negotiations the administration continues its stand against better wages and working conditions for its faculty. While GEO employees cannot legally sympathy strike, we do encourage everyone to join the faculty and show support in whatever way they can. Here is some useful information about the labor action and ways you can get involved:
UF website has a wealth of information about picketing times and actions, including the location of warming stations, etc: http://uicunitedfaculty.org/2014/02/uic-united-faculty-strike-details-logistics/
Wear blue to show solidarity with UF on Tuesday and Wednesday.
For those who have to cross the picket line to complete their duties, they can get blue armbands at Hull House, SEO 776, and UH 1827. Armbands are a way of displaying solidarity even if you have no choice but to cross the picket line.
UF is trending on twitter, use #UICstrike. A list of ideas for tweets and other social media support is available on the GEO website: http://uic-geo.net/mainsite/?p=1212
Take “strike selfies” in your empty classrooms to show how strong undergrad support is for the strike.
Here’s a set of strike graphics you can share on your Facebook wall. https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.674831679226963.1073741845.523003031076496&type=3
Here is an FAQ that will help clarify the GEOs responsibilities during the work stoppage: http://uic-geo.net/mainsite/?p=1210
Here is an article in the Jacobin about the strike that succinctly explains the position of UF: https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/02/faculty-on-strike

The United Faculty fight is our fight. Turn out and let the administration know that we are serious when we say UIC works because we do.

Solidarity,

GEO

On February 18, the tenure track and non-tenure track faculty who make up the University of Illinois-Chicago faculty union UICUF Local 6456 will walk out of the classroom and onto the picket line for a two-day strike. Barring a dramatic change-of-heart by university administrators at the bargaining table the weekend, it will be the first faculty strike at a major research university in a very long time.

There are a number of ways to support them over social media.

Here’s a set of strike graphics you can share on your Facebook wall. https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.674831679226963.1073741845.523003031076496&type=3

We’re holding a Twitter Storm using the hashtag #UICStrike on the evening of Tuesday, February 18th between 7-9PM (Central Time). During that window, send out tweets and Facebook messages using that hashtag to get it trending.

Here are some sample tweets. Feel free to write your own tweets, modify these, or simply copy and paste them. If you have any original content from the strike (photos, videos, etc) it would be great to post during this window. Retweet and share other people’s #UICStrike posts. By no means must you wait until the 18th to start your social media support. You can show solidarity today!

Sample Tweets:

“Administrators at UIC have increased by 10%, while tenured faculty positions have decreased by 1%.” http://ow.ly/tDMSp #UICStrike

Tuition has increased by 25% since 2007, while student enrollment is up by more than 10%. http://ow.ly/tDTDF #UICStrike

Small class sizes, individualized instruction, support for research, well equipped classrooms and labs http://ow.ly/tDTOr #UICStrike

The point of #UICStrike is to help fulfill UIC’s mission — providing quality education for working class students. http://ow.ly/tDEZt

UIC United Faculty President Joe Persky explains #UICStrike to Chicago Tonight on @WTTW http://ow.ly/tDI6q

Professor Lenny Davis explains why he’s striking http://youtu.be/ke9moptBV4Q and in Jacobin Magazine http://ow.ly/tDL2S #UICStrike

Looking for ways to show solidarity with #UICStrike? We have details here. http://ow.ly/tDLjq

UIC Professor Dick Simpson is striking for the future of teaching! #UICStrike Here’s his video —> http://youtu.be/3BlSK6NOxB0

“We’re losing faculty to universities willing to pay a fair salary; it’s our students who pay the price.” http://ow.ly/tDMEy #UICStrike

UIC Professor Gerry Gorman on union voice and #UICStrike Video —> http://youtu.be/QaaRikZ63Ns

Professor Bill Watkins Explains Why He’s Going on Strike http://ow.ly/tDLTK #UICStrike

Here are some links to news stories on the strike:

Chicago Tonight featuring UIC Faculty Union President Joe Persky http://chicagotonight.wttw.com/2014/02/13/uic-faculty-union-threatens-strike

Jacobin Magazine https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/02/faculty-on-strike/

Chicagoist http://chicagoist.com/2014/02/13/teachers_at_uic_may_strike_next_wee.php

The News-Gazette http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2014-02-13/uic-faculty-union-sets-strike-date-next-week.html

UICUF Press Release: http://uicunitedfaculty.org/2014/02/uic-faculty-union-plans-two-day-strike-fair-contract/

Follow
@IFTAFT (Illinois Federation of Teachers)
@UICUF (UIC local twitter)
@kenzoshibata

Also on Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/UICUF

and

https://www.facebook.com/iftaft

Dear GEO Members:

United Faculty, which represents all full-time UIC faculty (tenure and non-tenure), is planning a two-day walkout for Tuesday, February 18th and Wednesday, February 19th. This is an exciting opportunity for graduate employees and other campus workers to show our solidarity with the faculty in their contract negotiations. Faculty members cannot prohibit you from participating in the strike or other solidarity activities when you are off the clock. Nor can they require you to participate in union activities. We want to make sure all of our members know their rights and responsibilities in the event of another union’s labor action on campus.

The GEO contract contains a “no strike” clause that legally bars us from endorsing a sympathy strike and subjects any GA or TA to disciplinary action if they choose to withhold their labor in solidarity with UF. (RAs, graduate hourly employees, and graduate students on fellowship are not covered by our contract. While that means they are not legally prohibited from sympathy striking, it also means that they are not entitled to union representation. We do not know what the consequences will be, if any, for RAs, grad hourly employees, or fellows who honor faculty picket lines.) There are, however, a number of ways you can support the faculty:

• March with faculty during your off-hours.
• Respect picket lines whenever possible (i.e., don’t cross the line unless you absolutely must in order to complete your job duties).
• Explain the issues to your students, colleagues, friends, and family.
• Hang a “Proud Union Office” or “Proud Union Lab” on your door. If you would like one of these, please email the GEO at the email address below and we will make sure you get one.
• Tell a faculty member that their fight is our fight.

Whether or not any member chooses to cross the picket line is a matter of personal conscience. That said, GEO wants all members to understand that you may face disciplinary action for violating the “no strike” clause only if you choose to participate in the faculty strike by withholding labor (for example, canceling classes and office hours, refusing to report to work for GA hours, or intentionally ignoring student emails). These disciplinary penalties for violating the “no strike” clause could include dismissal. If, as the result of their participation in the faculty labor action, GEO members are subject to disciplinary action, they should immediately contact GEO: all union members are entitled to union representation.

If you have any questions or concerns about the strike, please contact us at geo@uic-geo.net.

Join your fellow GEO members for a General Membership Meeting and Q&A with the director of Campus Care, David Wurster on Tuesday, February 25th from 5-7 pm in the library of the African-American Cultural Center (Addams Hall, room 200). Members will be able to ask questions and submit comments regarding their experiences with Campus Care and address what works in the current system and what needs improvement. Food will be provided, so please invite your colleagues!
Also, in preparation for the meeting, the Health Care Working Group wants to hear from you, the members, about your experiences with Campus Care, whether it be in the Family Medicine Center, talking with billing, or getting a prescription filled. Do you have specific questions, comments, or concerns that you want to address with Campus Care? Now’s your chance! Please fill out the survey by Sunday, February 23rd. You can access it here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/geo_health_care_survey

Membership will also vote to elect an Elections Committee which will oversee the Steering Committee elections later in this spring semester. The committee, made up of 2-3 trustworthy individuals, will oversee the membership voting as well as the counting of the ballots for the election. It’s a very minimal time commitment and the only requirement is that anyone on the committee must not be running for Steering Committee. Interested in being considered? Email geo@uic-geo.net!

Due to the impending United Faculty walkout planned for February 18th and 19th, we have posted a general FAQ for all GEO members here. Additionally, we will be holding “office hours” next week to answer questions, address concerns, and be generally supportive of all GEO members, in addition to supporting faculty in their fight for a fair contract. If you have anything about the walkout (or GEO in general!) that you would like to discuss with a steering committee member or steward, please stop by!

Monday, 2-4PM, EPASW 4238

Tuesday, 2-4PM, SEO 736

Wednesday, 10AM-12PM, UH 2028
 
As always, any questions can also be directed to stewards@uic-geo.net.

At the Board of Trustees retreat on Wednesday, January 22, both President Easter and Trustee Pam Strobel explained that the purpose of their retreats was to ensure that the U of I system fulfilled the promises of the land grant college mission. (For those of you not versed in the history of land grant colleges, they were founded in the 19th century as an alternative to traditional higher education, which focused on the liberal arts and was the privilege of the very wealthy. Many land grant colleges specialized in professional training: agriculture, mining, engineering, and the sciences.) One of the central premises of land grant colleges is that a practical post-secondary education would allow poor Americans to enter the middle class. UIC, in particular, was moved from its original location on Navy Pier to its current location because Richard J. Daley believed that expanding the university would improve the lives of Chicago’s working class and their children.

Certainly, a lot has changed since the land grant system was started over 150 years ago and since UIC moved to the Circle Campus in 1965. But, UIC’s historic commitment to a practical education for all, regardless of their economic background, should not change. Increasing tuition (30% since 2007) and shrinking faculty numbers and pay threaten this mission. If the Board of Trustees is truly interested in fulfilling its historical mission, a good way to start would be to pay its faculty fair wages.

 

United Faculty, the union that represents full-time faculty at UIC, has been in negotiations with the University since September 2011 and have had over sixty negotiating sessions. They entered federal mediation in November 2013. UF and the University have come to a number of tentative agreements; the sticking points are, no surprise, mostly financial. Here is what UF is asking for:

  • Shared governance with administration over curriculum and budgeting.

  • Tenure track (TT) employees will be given a 3.5% raise. The University has offered them a 2.75% increase. To put these numbers in context, non-union UIC employees (including non-unionized faculty in the Colleges of Dentistry and Medicine, academic professionals, and administrators) received 2.75% to 3.25% raises in 2013. And downstate at UIUC, faculty received 4.15% to 4.65% raises. The faculty’s demands are by no means extravagant.

  • Non-tenure track (NTT) employee minimum will be raised from $30,000 to $45,000 a year. This works out to a raise from $5,000 per class taught to $7,500 per class.

The raise in the NTT minimum sounds like a lot, and the University keeps claiming that they simply don’t have the money to pay the increased salaries. Independent audits of the University’s budget, however, indicate otherwise: a June 2013 report stated that the University’s financial position is strong. There are now over $1 billion in unrestricted funds, having grown $287 million in the past year; UF’s salary increases would cost approximately $3.5 million per year. It’s clear there are the funds available, but paying instructors seems not to be the University’s highest priority. The conclusion I draw from the University’s unwillingness to pay instructors living wages is that education is no longer their highest priority. Perhaps the new face of land grant colleges is one that values home redecoration over undergraduate education. That, at least, UIC is willing to invest money in.

 

UF authorized a strike in December, with over 95% of their members voting to strike. A walk out is anticipated soon if the University doesn’t begin to take UF’s demands seriously. Hopefully, today’s action sent a message that UF is going to fight for a good and fair contract. If not, the University is in for a shock when its core employees refuse to teach classes, grade papers, meet with students, or serve on committees. No matter what, GEO stands by UF: their fight is our fight.

The struggle to secure the rights of workers and a fair wage are affecting nearly everyone on the UIC campus. Which is why in a local, concrete, sense there is very good reason for union solidarity.

The faculty’s fight to win a fair contract hinges on two key factors. The first is wages. UIC has consistently, over the past 5 years, suppressed wages, electing to spend money on everything but those upon whom the university relies the most: its educators. The faculty’s efforts are an attempt to address inequality and ensure those who make the university function are compensated for their efforts. Secondly, the efforts of the United Faculty (UF) are aimed at improving the shared governance within the university to ensure those who have the closest contact with students have some control over the direction of their departments.

SEIU Local 73, which represents campus workers including service, maintenance, and clerical staff, is engaged in a similar struggle to protect its members’ wages and rights.

These struggles are the GEO’s struggles.  For instance, UF’s fight is very close to our own. If UF succeeds in lifting NTT(Non-Tenure Track) salaries, it will have a direct impact on how much TAs at UIC can reasonably expect to be paid. We are considered part-time employees, and our wages are often based on either the full-time salaries of NTT employees or their per class pay. A massive wage increase for our fellow instructors lays important groundwork for GEO to demand a living wage for graduate employees. Moreover, the GEO is constantly fighting to have its voice heard in a number of forums, including workplace rights, Campus Care, and tuition and fees.

The reasons for showing solidarity go beyond anything happening exclusively on UIC’s campus. If we look at the issues raised by the UF and the GEO as part of the ongoing crisis in American academia, the stakes are even more significant. Solidarity strengthens the rights of workers and slows the erosion of higher education. Many of us accept our low wages and poor working conditions because we won’t be here forever. But, when we graduate, what kind of work will we find? Nationally, 75% of college-level instructors are non-tenured faculty (part- or full-time). Many of us will not achieve tenure. A faculty union that guarantees living wages, benefits, and job security to faculty will be essential for those of us who decide to stay in academia.

We can think of this problem even more broadly still. Since the earliest days of organized labor in the United States, there are two key things for which labor has fought: Wages and control over labor conditions. In every industry, such as the fast food industry where workers continue to fight for the right to unionize, or state and local administrators and public service workers, individuals continue to face these problems. The economy has done labor no favors recently, making it more important than ever to stand by those whose plight is our own.

What enables to the GEO to strive toward a better workplace environment for its members by (for example) advocating for LGBTQ rights and improving working conditions is your participation, your belief that everyone deserves a living wage and the right to work in safe conditions without fear of discrimination. These are the challenges that have rallied individuals to union causes for over a century and these are the challenges we continue to face today. Showing solidarity empowers laborers everywhere – not just those at UIC and not just those in higher education, but all workers.

Solidarity,

GEO