UIC Graduate Employees Make Their Voices Heard

Chicago— At noon on Tuesday, February 26th, the Graduate Employees’ Organization, a labor union representing graduate student employees at UIC, called their members to action. Graduate employees, faculty, students and community supporters showed their solidarity- amidst blistering winds and snow blown faces- and demanded that the University present their graduate employees with a fair contract.

At noon, more than seventy supporters gathered to protest the University unfair treatment of their graduate employees. Currently, graduate employees are earning 140% above the federal poverty line, which economically situates them between “very poor” and “poor”.

“We are not doing this for our own selfish motives, we want to improve UIC. That will only happen if the
UIC administration respects us and we respect each other. We deserve better wages and we deserve to be able to afford to pay our tuition. A lot of undergraduates aren’t able to pay their tuition here and we’re not either,” said Piere Washington a teaching assistant in the Sociology Department.

The primary points of contention include high healthcare premiums, low wages, and increasing fees.The health insurance option that the university offers its graduate employees, for a fee, is not a licensed insurance company and thus its policy holders are not afforded the same protections and rights under Illinois law as licensed insurance holders. Karen Cralli, a Teaching Assistant in the Department of Hispanic and Italian Studies was forced by UIC’s unlicensed insurance company, Campus Care, to make a choice: massive medical debt or death.

“Campus Care does not cover the majority of medically necessary, life-sustaining treatment for my blood disorder. When Campus Care put me in a position to choose between death and debt, I chose debt. No one should ever be forced to make that choice… Graduate employees deserve the same choices as other UIC employees—we should have the option to enroll in an insurance plan that won’t force us to choose between debt and death,” says Cralli.

During the rally speaker Aaron Finley, a teaching assistant in the English Department and steward for the GEO, called his fellow graduate employees to action stating, “ Our union is fifteen hundred members strong and these are numbers the university cannot ignore or do without. UIC works because we do…If you or your colleagues are waiting until the time has come to show the university that you demand a fair contract, that time is right now! We cannot let these negotiations drag on until it is too late. The time has come to show our strength and our unity. The time has come to let the administration know that we stand as one in our demands; that we will neither quietly nor complacently accept this treatment any longer.”

The Graduate Employee Organization will be back at the bargaining table with the University on
Thursday, March 7th for an all-day bargaining session.

For more information on the GEO’s bargaining session and contract negotiations visit https://
www.facebook.com/uicgeo and http://uic-geo.net/mainsite/

 

Aaron Finley SnowPiere WashingtonWinter RallyWinter Rally 2

By: Karen Cralli, Teaching Assistant (Department of Hispanic and Italian Studies)

For my 26th birthday, Campus Care gave me a choice: death or medical debt.

I suffer from a rare, life-threatening blood disorder called thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP). Left untreated, TTP claims a 95% mortality rate. With treatment, the survival rate is roughly 80%, though a significant number of patients experience multiple relapses. The only known treatment for TTP is plasmapheresis (plasma exchange): a patient’s plasma is removed and replaced with a donor’s plasma. Each plasma exchange at UIC’s Blood Donor and Hemotherapy Center costs $7,000: $5,000 for plasma, and $2,000 for labor and equipment.  There is no telling how many plasma exchanges a patient may need before his/her platelet count stabilizes. Patients like myself, who have experienced two or more relapses, are encouraged to take an FDA-approved immunosuppressant drug called Rituxan, which has been shown to reduce relapse rates from 40-60% to 10%. For someone like me who has relapsed twice in less than 8 months, Rituxan is a miracle drug. Four doses of Rituxan (the recommended course of treatment for TTP) plus the cost of labor and equipment total $60,000 at UIC’s Oncology Clinic.

My third TTP episode began in late September, three weeks before my 26th birthday. Until age 26, I had been on my parents’ insurance plans, which always covered treatment for my disorder. Coverage through my parents’ insurance was set to lapse at the end of my birth month, meaning Campus Care would become my only insurance provider mid-way through my relapse. Though each TTP relapse is considered a life-threatening medical emergency, Campus Care does not cover the use of any blood products or biological sera on an outpatient basis, nor does it cover monoclonal antibodies like Rituxan. I receive the majority of my medical care on an outpatient basis; I am only treated as an inpatient until I am no longer at risk of bleeding to death from a small cut. Campus Care does not cover the majority of medically necessary, life-sustaining treatment for my blood disorder.

When Campus Care put me in a position to choose between death and debt, I chose debt. No one should ever be forced to make that choice—especially not a TA or GA who earns less than $20,000 a year, and pays more than $1,000 a year for Campus Care.

To date, I have received over $80,000 worth of blood products, medication, and medical services not covered by Campus Care. Graduate employees deserve the same choices as other UIC employees—we should have the option to enroll in an insurance plan that won’t force us to choose between debt and death.