As we near our strike, our undergraduate students ask us: How can we help?

The most direct way is to tell the university administration that the work of their TAs and GAs is really important to them, and that they support the efforts of GEO to reach agreement on livable working conditions. Below is a sample email, which we encourage all undergraduate students to send to the Chancellor of UIC, Michael Amridis, who holds the highest position in the UIC administration. Clicking this link here will initiate your default email client to compose an email with the same text.

Dear Chancellor Amridis,

I am writing to ask you to settle the contract with the UIC TA and GA union as soon as possible. Their work is invaluable to me as an undergraduate at UIC, and I am surprised and upset that they have been negotiating with you for more than a year, and you refuse to provide them proper living and working conditions. You still have not offered them a living wage or adequate healthcare, you are making them pay thousands in fees to work at the university, and you refuse to provide them clear policies about who gets jobs each semester so they can be free from fear of retaliation. They are the reason why your university works so well – you should treat them better.

If they go on strike, I will only have you to blame for restricting my access to an education.

Feel free to forward this post to undergrads in your classes! The more voices are heard, the higher the chance of a positive outcome.

Today’s Supreme Court Ruling Hurts UIC Grad Workers

The Supreme Court decision today to roll back workers’ rights in Janus vs. AFSCME negatively affects all us who work and study here at UIC. The decision means only the people who sign union membership cards will be paying dues to GEO, even though our union will still be forced to represent non-members.  In this new environment, those who don’t sign membership cards are decreasing all of our collective power to win raises and stronger worker protections.

Big corporations and billionaire-funded anti-worker groups have been pushing for just such a court ruling for a long time. They know that when people aren’t signed up as dues-paying members, unions can’t survive, and then workers lose their rights. It’s an intentional effort to decimate unions by cutting off their financial resources, deceptively called “right to work”—but the more accurate description is “right to work for less.”

Dues are not money our union is “taking” from members. Since our first contract in 2006, we have continuously won raises amounting to a 39 percent increase, while dues have only increased 0.15 percent in the same time period (see attached graph). Dues pay for our indispensable full-time staff, materials for educating and organizing members, events, an office space, and legal services to protect members’ rights. GEO included the cost of dues in the very first raise we won, offsetting the cost of dues forever. But without dues and high membership numbers, we will lose our ability to continue winning higher raises and other benefits going forward.

Janus is modeled after so-called “right to work” private sector laws in 28 states. Because union membership rates have dropped significantly in those states, median household incomes are $8,174 less than in non-right to work states, people under 65 are 46 percent more likely to be uninsured, infant mortality rates are 12 percent higher, and workplace deaths occur 49 percent more often.

Despite these obstacles, those unions in “right to work” states that continue to maintain high membership levels continue to win gains for all of their members.

Make sure you and the other grad workers in your department sign membership cards.  You can email Anne Kirkner:, Dawn Tefft:, or your departmental steward to sign a card or otherwise get involved more in the fight to protect our union. You can also get a list of all the grad workers covered by the contract in your department so you know who needs to sign a membership card.

June 25, 2018

The Steering Committee of the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) at the University of Illinois at Chicago, IFT/AFT Local 6297, strongly condemns the Trump Administration’s so-called “zero tolerance” immigration policy. We stand in solidarity with the unions, civil liberties organizations, public officials, community leaders, and activists who are fighting for a just and humane immigration system.

Being branded “illegal” or “criminal” creates a social stigma that can lead to multiple forms of discrimination throughout a person’s life and career, which is why GEO is currently fighting to strengthen the non-discrimination article in our contract by adding immigration/citizenship status and arrest record as protected categories. Unfortunately, the UIC administration has chosen to reject this important proposal, but we are circulating a petition to demand they take it seriously and we encourage GEO members and supporters to sign and share it.

We believe all migrants—regardless of whether they arrive as a family unit or the particular reasons they come—deserve to be treated humanely and with compassion and dignity. We reject any law, policy, government agency, political ideology, public discourse, or media cliché that serves to dehumanize an entire group of people or strip them of their basic rights. As union activists, we also reject President Trump’s brand of economic nationalism, which aims to divide the workers of the world, and instead we call for working-class unity and solidarity across borders.

Trump’s “Zero Tolerance” Policy

In effect since April 6, the “zero tolerance” policy is an attempt to “crack down” on immigrants, letting the Justice Department criminally prosecute all adults crossing the border without papers. Many of these migrants are fleeing violence in their home countries and seeking asylum. Though President Trump has said asylum seekers should cross the border at ports of entry, those who do are being denied entry anyway. As part of the crackdown, the Justice Department is even taking steps to strip citizenship from some naturalized citizens.

Worst of all, the “zero tolerance” policy forcibly separated at least 2,300 children from their parents between May 5 and June 9. Though there is nothing new about U.S. immigration enforcement being cruel, deliberately taking kids from their parents, with neither knowing when—or even if—they will ever see each other again, and locking babies and toddlers in “tender age shelters,” is particularly grotesque.

Many of the parents were deported back to their home countries or sent to far-away detention centers without their children, with no plans for how they will be reunited. Citing the long-lasting trauma created by taking kids away from their parents, the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics described the separation policy as “government-sanctioned child abuse.” In response, our parent union, the American Federation of Teachers, issued a formal complaint to the United Nations Human Rights Council, an international body the U.S. recently withdrew from under the Trump Administration.

While President Trump’s June 20 executive order ending family separation—which only happened after massive public outcry, and after the president had initially claimed he could not do anything about it—is a positive development, it is not enough. The executive order keeps the “zero tolerance” policy in place and, worse, it calls for families to be indefinitely detained at the border. As Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said: “This crisis will not abate until each and every single child is reunited with his or her parent. An eleventh-hour executive order doesn’t fix the calamitous harm done to thousands of children and their parents… Children don’t belong in jail at all, even with their parents, under any set of circumstances.”

What You Can Do

We call on all GEO members and supporters to fight the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.  There will be Families Belong Together marches across the country on Saturday, June 30. In Chicago, the march will begin that day at 11am in Daley Plaza (details here). If you’re not in Chicago, you can find a local march by entering your ZIP code here.

Make sure to sign and share GEO’s petition in support of strengthening the non-discrimination article in our contract to add new protected categories, including immigration/citizenship status and arrest record.

If you want to learn more about this issue, get involved, or show solidarity, here are some places to do so:

American Civil Liberties Union

Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights

Fearless Undocumented Alliance


National Immigrant Justice Center

United We Dream

(DRM) Dream Action Coalition


Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project

A longer list of organizations can be found here, and you can also read these articles laying out the case for abolishing ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement): “5 Reasons Why Activists Are Calling for the Abolition of ICE” and “It’s Time to Abolish ICE.”