Today we met with the administration for our 29th bargaining session, the 7th since the strike began. For the first time, Provost Poser joined the administration’s negotiating team. The session lasted 9 hours.

GEO members completely packed the room, to the point it was standing-room-only and several people had to stand in the hallways. Clearly feeling the pressure of our strike and the packing of the room, the administration finally made some serious movement on the issue of fees. It is important to remember that at UIC, we pay a higher percentage of our salary in fees than grad workers at many other universities. They offered to waive half of the International Student Fee, which would be a big victory for GEO. On the General Fee, both sides had a dialogue about providing fee relief in the form of an increase to our pay. The administration offered to offset the planned $50 increase to the General Fee by paying all TAs and GAs an additional $55 at the beginning of each semester. They also offered to waive any new fee created during the life of the contract, at least until the contract expires.

This is good progress, and absolutely none of it would have happened if we hadn’t been on strike for all this time. We also started having what seemed like a productive discussion on other outstanding issues, including the length of the contract and the GEO’s right to not be turned away from departmental orientations to inform new grad workers of their rights and keep our union strong.

We hoped to continue discussing these issues, as well as wages and healthcare, for the sake of progressing the negotiations. However, the provost framed the administration’s movement on fees as a gift, and told us we would need to accept a 4-year contract, give up on our proposal on access to orientations, give up on our proposal to have the university cover some of the cost of dependent care in Campus Care, give up on our proposal having the university provide the union with an office space, and step down by 7 percent on our most recent wage proposal.

All of this would be in addition to things we’ve already conceded on, including full fee waivers, the ability to opt out of the CTA U-Pass fee, more paid sick days, more paid personal days, more paid parental leave, stronger tuition waiver language, getting compensated for late appointment letters, having an article on academic freedom, and stepping down repeatedly on our wage proposal. We have made numerous concessions over the course of the past 13 months, illustrating our ongoing willingness to negotiate in good faith.

Therefore, the administration’s insistence tonight that we concede even further in exchange for their movement on fees was not considered acceptable to the majority of the many members in the room. We gave them an offer that made significant movement on fees to try to meet the administration in the middle. We accepted the administration’s framework to offset the General Fee through an increase to our pay, stepping down from our earlier stance to have it partially waived. We also gave up on our proposal for the university to provide the union with an office space. In addition, we stepped down on wages by the same dollar amount that they moved up for the life of the contract.

When we gave the administration this offer, several GEO members in the room who are not on the bargaining team gave personal testimony for why we are not prepared to give up on more of our proposals. They also spoke to their concerns with some of the condescending ways the administration interacted with us today. However, we also acknowledged that we made progress in negotiations today and we look forward to continuing to do so. We’re still scheduling our next bargaining session, which will be by the end of this week, as well as planning to support the student walkout on Friday. After today’s progress, we feel there’s the potential for finally resolving this strike soon. At the same time, if we still don’t have a contract by this Saturday, we plan to hand out flyers at UIC’s undergraduate recruitment events this Friday and Saturday. In the meantime, join us on the pickets.

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