UIC Graduate Employees Show Their Strength

Chicago— At noon on Tuesday, February 26th, the Graduate Employees’ Organization, a labor union representing graduate student employees at UIC, will be rallying in the UIC Quad urging the administration to be more reasonable at the bargaining table.

Graduate employees have been without a contract for the past six months and this has resulted in a wage freeze for their approximately 1,500 members. The primary points of contention include high healthcare premiums, low wages, and increasing fees. Graduate employees have demanded that their compensation match UIC’s own figure of the annual cost of living, $17,958, and the administration’s proposals have thus far fallen more than three thousand dollars below this figure.

“Rally for Graduate Employee Rights” will continue the momentum from the graduate employees’ previous event, “Show Us Some Love UIC” where graduate employees delivered hundreds of Valentine’s Day messages to the chancellor in the effort to get the Administration to be more reasonable at the bargaining table.

“UIC calls itself a world class university. But when it comes to employee compensation, benefits, and working conditions, UIC is anything but world class,” says Kevin Carey, a PhD candidate in the department of English. Grad employees find it particularly egregious that UIC has dramatically increased the salaries of many administrators already receiving very high salaries. UIC’s chancellor, for example, received a 10% raise this year, bringing her salary to $411,752.11 while grad employees receive wages well below the cost of living for Chicago and often pay thousands of dollars in fees each semester.

“UIC is a public university, and education should be its primary aim. This does not square well with the fact that those working in classrooms are receiving less than a living wage while administrative staff are drawing exorbitant salaries. UIC’s priorities are backwards,” says Greg Sutliff, a teaching assistant in the Philosophy department.

Throughout the course of negotiations, members of the union have emphasized that their work is essential to the functioning of the university. “Teaching assistants are responsible for a large amount of the undergraduate teaching at UIC, and other graduate assistants perform vital administrative duties,” says Jes Cook, a teaching assistant in the Sociology department. “UIC works because we do.”

For more information on the GEO’s “Rally for Graduate Employee Rights” and contract negotiations visit https://www.facebook.com/uicgeo and http://uic-geo.net/mainsite/

Chicago—The Graduate Employees’ Organization, a labor union representing graduate student employees at UIC, has been without a contract for the past six months. This has resulted in a wage freeze for their approximately 1,500 members. The primary points of contention include high healthcare premiums, low wages, and increasing fees. Graduate employees have demanded that their compensation match UIC’s own figure of the annual cost of living, $17,958, and the administration’s proposals have thus far fallen more than three thousand dollars below this figure.

At noon on Valentine’s Day, graduate employees will be urging the administration to not break their hearts, as they deliver hundreds of Valentine’s Day messages to the chancellor in the effort to get the Administration to be more reasonable at the bargaining table.

“UIC calls itself a world class university. But when it comes to employee compensation, benefits, and working conditions, UIC is anything but world class,” says Kevin Carey, a PhD candidate in the department of English. Grad employees find it particularly egregious that UIC has dramatically increased the salaries of many administrators already receiving very high salaries. UIC’s chancellor, for example, received a 10% raise this year, bringing her salary to $411,752.11 while grad employees receive wages well below the cost of living for Chicago and often pay thousands of dollars in fees each semester.

“UIC is a public university, and education should be its primary aim. This does not square well with the fact that those working in classrooms are receiving less than a living wage while administrative staff are drawing exorbitant salaries. UIC’s priorities are backwards,” says Greg Sutliff, a teaching assistant in the Philosophy department.

Throughout the course of negotiations, members of the union have emphasized that their work is essential to the functioning of the university. “Teaching assistants are responsible for a large amount of the undergraduate teaching at UIC, and other graduate assistants perform vital administrative duties,” says Jes Cook, a teaching assistant in the Sociology department. “UIC works because we do.”

For more information on the GEO’s “Show Us Some Love, UIC” campaign and contract negotiations visit https://www.facebook.com/uicgeo and http://uic-geo.net/mainsite/

Show us some love 2

I am 6th year PhD student in the department of English at UIC. I work the equivalent of two full-time
jobs. But I can’t make ends meet.

When I began my PhD work here, I had already obtained a master’s degree – so I was no stranger to the rigors of academic work. It came as no surprise when a colleague of mine calculated that based upon the average reading load per semester and the average number of minutes it takes to read a page of academic prose, just the act of reading in our program was a 40/week job (38.8 hours/week of assigned reading). I would expect no less of graduate school.

In addition to this work, however, as a condition of my enrollment, I was also teaching 2 sections of composition. As comp is required for all UIC undergraduates, these courses usually fill to max capacity – 23 students. The First-Year Writing Program requires that these students complete four writing projects totaling 20 pages of finished work by the end of the semester. Each writing project must go through at least two drafts. Putting my rusty math skills to use: 2 x 23 x 20 x 2 = 1,840 pages of
freshman writing to be read, evaluated, and constructively commented upon per semester, in addition to
my 40 hours a week of assigned reading. I haven’t even factored in yet the time spent in the classroom
(both attending class and teaching it); working on, writing my own research; and applying for grants or
to conferences and publications. I won’t even mention time for pesky things like friends, family, and
exercise.

But again, I didn’t enter academia in order to pursue a life of leisure. Quite the contrary, my teaching
has been a huge source of fulfillment for me, and has informed my scholarship in ways I could never
have predicted. My problem is not that I have to work hard. My problem is that, while it ought to be
clear that I am working the equivalent of two full-time jobs, I still can’t make ends meet.

According to the cost of living calculator on UIC’s Financial Aid webpage, the cost of living in
Chicago for 2012-2013 is $17, 958. (It is worth mentioning that many other independent assessments
set this figure significantly higher.) Currently, I am paid $15, 500. Every year I am forced to choose
between taking on outside work (with the effect of slowing down my progress toward degree, and
extending my indentured servitude), or taking out loans and falling further into debt. Besides the
situation being untenable, it is unconscionable of UIC to tell its graduate students (who, by the way,
teach over one third of all undergraduate students) that despite all the hard work they do, they don’t
deserve a living wage. UIC calls itself a world class university. But, when it comes to employee
compensation, benefits, and working conditions, UIC is anything but world class.

Kevin Carey