By Gina Gemmel
The history of the labor movement is not something that is typically taught in history courses in the US anymore, at least not those general courses that most of us are required to take. As a result, there is a lot of misinformation about what unions are and what they do. In response, we have developed a series of posts that will explain what exactly a union is and what it is not. This first post will focus on what makes a graduate employee union different from any other campus organization that you might join during your time at UIC.
There are a lot of organizations on UIC’s campus that graduate students can take part in, including some that are political in nature. These organizations do a lot of excellent work, and the purpose of this post is not to disparage them; UIC-GEO works in solidarity with many groups all over campus to try to effect changes that will have a positive impact for the UIC community. However, it is important to understand the difference between what these organizations do and what the GEO does.
The GEO is the sole bargaining agent for graduate employees at UIC. This means that members of the GEO negotiate a contract with representatives of the university, and that this contract governs our employment here. Because the GEO has legal standing as the bargaining agent for graduate employees, the agreements we reach during contract negotiations with the university are binding. This means that involvement with the GEO provides a unique opportunity to compel the university to make decisions that will ensure our fair treatment.
Our relationship to the university is not advisory, which means that the university cannot simply take the demands we present during contract negotiations under advisement and then make a decision without our involvement. The GEO is the only organization that has this power. There is no other, more effective way for graduate employees to make their voices heard and to demand change.
The GEO also enforces the contract that has been negotiated. This means that if your supervisor is making you work more hours than the contract allows, if you are being treated unfairly, or if you are not being paid properly, the GEO can file a grievance to compel the university to follow the contract. The GEO, as a labor union, has legal standing that requires the university to listen, to answer, and to take action.
In the coming weeks, you will see posts considering who decides the direction of the GEO, how we compel the university to agree to our demands, and why unions are so important.