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.