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.

By: Gina Gemmel

In the coming weeks, I’ll be writing a series of posts on what exactly a union is and how a healthy, active union can benefit workers.  But today I want to start by discussing the concept of a “worker.”

Is a graduate employee a worker?  Most graduate students who hold assistantships, whether they work in an office, a classroom, or doing research, consider themselves to be primarily students.  This might be because some grads see themselves more as apprentices than employees, because we associate being an employee with a more structured, 9-5 type of job, or because we are often encouraged by our departments to give most of our attention to our studies.  Whatever the reason, one of the first hurdles to overcome in discussing unions with graduate employees is simply convincing us that we are workers who could benefit from a union.

We are definitely workers, though.  We provide essential services, without which UIC would not be able to operate.  Whether we do research in labs, teach students in classrooms, or work in an office, the university could not keep functioning without the almost 1,400 graduate employees who do work every day.  As an organization, UIC could not keep operations running without the hard work of Graduate Assistants in offices all over campus.  UIC could not sustain its status a research university without Research Assistants performing experiments and supporting the work of faculty members*.  And of course, without Teaching Assistants in classrooms, UIC could not fulfill its mission of educating students.  All of these roles are clearly vital, and they are all roles for which we receive a compensation, which is another critical indicator that we are, in fact, workers.

Graduate students with assistantships perform all of this vital work, and as a result the university is able to continue running.  Acknowledging the work we perform as work has become an important issue in recent years as universities have shifted their labor force toward the contingent end of the spectrum.  According to the US Department of Education, only 27% of instructors were full-time, tenure-track teachers*.  The remaining 73% of instructors were contingent workers, including graduate students and adjuncts.  Not only are we workers; we are doing the work that used to be done by full-time, higher-paid workers – you know, those people we all traditionally consider to be workers!

I will be writing more on this topic in the coming weeks, but the preceding information should not only illustrate why what we do as graduate employees is work, but also why we need to raise our collective voice to influence the direction the university is headed in.  We make up a significant portion of the university workforce, and as such, we should have a say in our own working conditions and the operations of the university.  Unionization is the best way to achieve these things.

*Although the GEO believes that Research Assistants are workers, there is currently a law in IL preventing them from being a part of the bargaining unit of a union.  The GEO would like to see this law overturned in the future so that RAs could take advantage of all the benefits guaranteed to TAs and GAs through the GEO contract.


February 21, 2011

To Whom It May Concern:

As the many thousands of protesters in Madison, and around Wisconsin, the United States, and the world have been demonstrating for days, the bill currently up for consideration by the Wisconsin State Senate known as the “Budget Repair Bill” is not genuinely directed at repairing the state budget. By its provisions, it would destroy nearly all public sector unions with its provisions that prohibit collective bargaining on even the most basic provisions of their members’ working conditions. The three unions exempted from this assault are the police, firefighter, and state patrol unions that supported Governor Walker during his candidacy, and it is this fact that makes clear the bill’s true intent: destroying the voice of those public workers of Wisconsin who challenge Governor Walker’s neo-liberal policies. If the destruction of unions were necessary to the fiscal health of the state, as Governor Walker seems to believe, surely these three exempted unions ought to be included. The obvious conclusion is that this bill is a euphemistically-named means to an altogether different end that would return Wisconsin to labor policies not seen in the state since the middle of the 1800s. It would mimic the labor policies for teachers in the states which perform among the worst in education on nearly every statistical measure.

For all these reasons, with the goal of protecting the voices of the public workers of Wisconsin, protecting public education and other government services, and preserving the democratic right of all people to speak out against oppression, we, the Graduate Employees Organization at the University of Illinois at Chicago, stand with our brothers and sisters in Wisconsin who will not back down from this fight. We applaud their spirit, their tenacity, their message, and their methods, and we join in their battle because it is also our own. Right now it is the workers of Wisconsin who have been targeted. But those of us who fight for the same causes of justice, equality, and democracy in other locations understand that this is not just an attack on the working people of Wisconsin. An injury to one is an injury to all, and we add our voices with theirs to say that we will not stand for this! Not in Wisconsin, not anywhere. We applaud those union members and activists who led the march to take over the capitol building.  We applaud those Senators who have taken a stand to prevent this bill from being rammed through the legislature. We applaud all those who stand for a democracy in America that has actual meaning behind it, rather merely than a hollow appeal to an empty symbolism.

We call on all who share these goals of justice, equality, and democracy to join with the workers of Wisconsin and their friends in this struggle against oppression.

In solidarity,
Steering Committee
UIC Graduate Employees’ Organization

Use this form to keep track of the number of hours that you work during a semester. Remember to include all of your work duties and to file your completed form for safekeeping. If you think your job requires you to work more hours per week than you are being paid for, please contact us right away!


International graduate employees have the right to participate in their union, and have the right to all legal forms of speech and association. The university may not retaliate against international students for participation in union activities, and union participation may not be used as a consideration when reviewing your visa application.

Please see the attached informational flyer to learn more about your right to participate in union activities.



The first pay day of the Fall semester is Thursday, September 16. To make sure that you will be paid on time, please check your NESSIE earnings statement immediately. You can access NESSIE at

If your September 16 paycheck does not appear in NESSIE today, please contact your department payroll administrator IMMEDIATELY to track down the problem.

For those whose September 16 paycheck does not appear in NESSIE today, there is a chance that the university can put through a “payroll adjustment” for you, but you need to contact your departmental payroll administrator TODAY to make that happen.

Last year, as many as 300 graduate employees weren’t paid on the first pay day. Because of the extreme financial hardship that late pay puts on graduate employees, GEO has been working all summer to ensure that GEO members will be paid on time this year. Please check NESSIE as soon as you can, and contact your departmental payroll administrator today if you do not see a paycheck being processed for you for September 16.

NESSIE Instructions

1. Visit

2. Click on the COMPENSATION tab.

3. Under “Pay & Taxes” select “Earnings Statement”

4. Follow any additional instructions to gain access.

Response to Chancellor Allen-Meares Statement on Negotiations

By Joe Iosbaker, Chief Steward, UIC Clerical Unit, SEIU Local 73

On August 10th, the Chancellor sent a letter to every employee and student at UIC. While we won’t have the opportunity to get our response to every student and non-union employee, our members and supporters need to hear the truth.

Who’s Greedy?

The Chancellor painted a picture of greedy public employees, asking for 20% raises in a time of economic crisis. She claimed that UIC treats “… all our employees — whether unionized or not — fairly and equitably.”

Neither of these statements is true.

Is Local 73 asking for 20% raises? No. The proposal from the Clerical bargaining committee is for 8.25% over 3 years.

Does UIC treat all employees fairly and equitably? No, unless everyone received a 37% increase like President Hogan, who is now being paid $620,000 – not to mention the $245,000 bonus he’ll receive over five years. Or an 85% increase like his assistant, now being paid $195,000 a year, up from the $105,000 a year salary that President Ikenberry’s assistant was making.

She didn’t mention her own salary: she was hired in 2008 at $375,000 a year, nearly a $50,000 raise over her predecessor. She also didn’t mention the $500,000 spent to rehab and furnish her mansion, provided to her rent free.

The Chancellor’s letter claimed, “Frankly, we cannot afford double digit pay increases, nor are there market or cost-of-living factors which would support such increases.” Apparently she wasn’t referring to the top administrators.

She didn’t mention management estimates that Local 73 members at UIC earn an average of $35,000 a year, and this only after fighting for raises for the past 20 years. At this salary, a 2.75% increase would be $975 a year.

Local 73 members aren’t greedy. We’re just not willing to have the budget crisis balanced on our backs while top administrators get exorbitant salaries, raises and perks.

The Ugly Truth

Local 73 has stated since the first day of negotiations over a year ago that our top priority is job security for our members. Hundreds of Civil Service jobs have been eliminated in recent years, replaced by Academic Professionals (APs). Management has refused to even discuss the issue at the table.

Because of this, Local 73 had to approach legislators in Springfield, and the directors of the State University Civil Service System (SUCSS). On August 11th, six State Senators convened a hearing near campus to hear testimony about UIC, where witnesses included the director of SUCSS, and members and representatives of SEIU Local 73. UIC refused requests from legislators to send administrators to testify.

SUCSS director Tom Morelock explained that they have audited UIC twice in recent years, reviewing AP positions exempted from Civil Service going back to 2004. Of the hundreds of positions created and reviewed, in their two audits they found 61% and 67% should have remained Civil Service. Mr. Morelock explained the frustrating three year long effort to reform UIC’s practice. The co-chair of the hearing, Sen. John Sullivan, a member of the Higher Education committee, asked Mr. Morelock, “Do you see this level of problem with other universities in the state?” Morelock answered, “No.”

Local 73 President Christine Boardman exposed that UIC’s practice is discriminatory at its core. “The University is deliberately pursuing a strategy to take people out of Civil Service.” The unionized Civil Service workers at UIC are over 90% Black and Latino, while it appears the majority of Academic Professionals are white. The exact percentages are not known, as UIC has failed to respond to Freedom of Information requests filed by Local 73. Also, President Boardman showed that the wage disparity has grown in recent years between the predominantly white Civil Service workers in Urbana and the mainly Black and Latino work force in Chicago.

In response to the facts about UIC, Local 73 Vice President Phil Martini proposed that UIC should lose its exemption authority. That is, the Vice Chancellor of HR, John Loya, should no longer be able to exempt a position from Civil Service. Sen. Maggie Crotty, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR), declared that she would take that recommendation to JCAR.

Appeal to the Chancellor

Local 73 members work hard. We’ve suffered hundreds of job losses in recent years. As a result, many of us are doing the work of two or three co-workers. The Customer Service Representatives in the Medical Center have almost tripled their work loads over the past six years. There are only half as many Building Service Workers as there used to be. The number of patients seen in the medical center has grown from fewer than 200,000 visits a year to 500,000 visits a year, and our members have shouldered the burden.

Our families are experiencing more unemployment. We come from communities with a growing rate of home foreclosures. We need our modest raises. And we deserve to be treated with respect. HR has engaged in bad faith bargaining. We’re faced with doing something we’ve never had to do: we’ve decided to strike if we can’t get contracts.

It’s up to you, Chancellor.

SEIU Local 73 workers at UIC filed an intent to strike notice on Friday, August 6 after a year of contract negotiation. Below is a letter of support UIC-GEO leadership sent to SEIU workers to show our solidarity with them.

To SEIU Local 73 Workers:

The UIC GEO would like to offer our full support for SEIU workers who are considering a strike after a full year of contract negotiations with no progress.

We stand in solidarity with our fellow workers at UIC, who do the important work of keeping UIC running on a day-to-day basis. Last academic year, the university argued that they hadn’t been paid what they were owed by the state, which put them in a financial crisis and necessitated salary freezes and other draconian measures. As skeptical as we were last year about these excuses, we are even less willing to accept such a narrative this year, when the university has received all of the money they were owed for the prior fiscal year, as well as 80% of the money they are owed for this year. We refuse to accept the excuse that the university has no money for some of its most essential workers when the new president will earn $170,000 more this year than the president did last year.

There is no reason why the university can’t support SEIU workers by giving them a fair contract that offers financial security. We implore the university to treat SEIU workers with the respect they deserve by offering them a fair contract during one of their upcoming mediation sessions. Should the university fail to do so, we will support SEIU workers in their right to strike.

In Solidarity,

The Leadership of UIC-GEO

After a marathon thirteen hour mediation session with the university’s bargaining team yesterday, the GEO bargaining team emerged with an agreement that will protect tuition waivers, increase job security, and made important gains on minimum stipends and the university contribution to health insurance.

Because of your organizing, emails, letters of support, and attendance at Monday’s successful  rally, the bargaining team was able to walk away from the table with a contract that makes important gains, and protects the benefits we currently have. Because of your hard work, the UIC administration got our message that we could not agree to a contract that put our tuition waivers at risk.

Next week, GEO members will vote on whether to ratify the agreement (time and place to be announced soon) which includes

* Tuition waiver security

* 2% increase to the minimum stipend in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 academic years.

* Increased university contribution to health insurance from $100 per year to $250 per year.

* Greater job security through strengthened language about appointment and re-appointment criteria

* Guaranteed on time pay, even at the beginning of the school year

* Grads must receive appointment letters 45 days in advance of appointments, except in the case of late appointments

* Academic-year (9-month) pay guaranteed for those currently paid that way.

* Grads may enroll children in the UIC childcare center, and pay according to an income-based sliding scale

* Increased transparency in tuition differentials and fees.

At the ratification meeting, full copies of the new agreement will be available.

In solidarity,GEO Strategic Contract Campaign Committee