Yesterday, April 11th, our union brothers and sisters in Service Employees International United (SEIU) Local 73 at UIC officially filed a notice of their Intent to Strike. They have been working without a contract for almost two years yet the University has constantly stalled negotiations and have bargained unprofessionally. We are calling on all GEO members to stand in solidarity with SEIU as they fight for a fair contract.

SEIU represents the most underpaid workers on campus yet the University is offering them no raises after the top 28 University of Illinois administrators received an average 5.86 percent wage increase over the last two years on top of their already six figure salaries. The work of the clerical, technical, and maintenance workers is vital to the day-to-day operations of the University and its hospital. Without them, there would be no clean classrooms or facilities for faculty and teaching assistants to teach in, less support for patient care in the hospitals, and far less efficiency in the administrative offices across campus. UIC will not be a “World Class University” as long as it continues to depress the wages of the workers who are integral to the University’s basic functions while bloating the salaries of redundant administrators at the top.

Recently, the University of Illinois has adopted a more aggressive stance towards unions on campuses, spending increasing amounts on anti-union lawyers. Workers and unions across the country are standing up–from the University of California grad employee strike to the research assistants organizing in Michigan and the hospital workers now on strike at John Hopkins University–and fighting corporatization and austerity measures in higher education that only serve to undermine the strength of the university. But we are strong when we stand together, when we stand up for public higher education. UIC works because we—the students, faculty, and workers—do!

In solidarity,

Steering Committee
Graduate Employees’ Organization
University of Illinois at Chicago
Local 6297 IFT-AFT, AFL-CIO
www.uic-geo.net

Marissa Baker, Co-President
Gina Gemmel, Co-President
Lydia Hou, Secretary
Daniel Ingebretson, Treasurer
Davis Smith-Brecheisen, Co-Communications Chair
Jesse Holzman, Co-Communications Chair
Alyssa Greenberg, Grievance Chair
Jes Cook, Outreach Chair
Jen Phillis, Co-Chief Steward
Edgar Bering, Co-Chief Steward

The struggle to secure the rights of workers and a fair wage are affecting nearly everyone on the UIC campus. Which is why in a local, concrete, sense there is very good reason for union solidarity.

The faculty’s fight to win a fair contract hinges on two key factors. The first is wages. UIC has consistently, over the past 5 years, suppressed wages, electing to spend money on everything but those upon whom the university relies the most: its educators. The faculty’s efforts are an attempt to address inequality and ensure those who make the university function are compensated for their efforts. Secondly, the efforts of the United Faculty (UF) are aimed at improving the shared governance within the university to ensure those who have the closest contact with students have some control over the direction of their departments.

SEIU Local 73, which represents campus workers including service, maintenance, and clerical staff, is engaged in a similar struggle to protect its members’ wages and rights.

These struggles are the GEO’s struggles.  For instance, UF’s fight is very close to our own. If UF succeeds in lifting NTT(Non-Tenure Track) salaries, it will have a direct impact on how much TAs at UIC can reasonably expect to be paid. We are considered part-time employees, and our wages are often based on either the full-time salaries of NTT employees or their per class pay. A massive wage increase for our fellow instructors lays important groundwork for GEO to demand a living wage for graduate employees. Moreover, the GEO is constantly fighting to have its voice heard in a number of forums, including workplace rights, Campus Care, and tuition and fees.

The reasons for showing solidarity go beyond anything happening exclusively on UIC’s campus. If we look at the issues raised by the UF and the GEO as part of the ongoing crisis in American academia, the stakes are even more significant. Solidarity strengthens the rights of workers and slows the erosion of higher education. Many of us accept our low wages and poor working conditions because we won’t be here forever. But, when we graduate, what kind of work will we find? Nationally, 75% of college-level instructors are non-tenured faculty (part- or full-time). Many of us will not achieve tenure. A faculty union that guarantees living wages, benefits, and job security to faculty will be essential for those of us who decide to stay in academia.

We can think of this problem even more broadly still. Since the earliest days of organized labor in the United States, there are two key things for which labor has fought: Wages and control over labor conditions. In every industry, such as the fast food industry where workers continue to fight for the right to unionize, or state and local administrators and public service workers, individuals continue to face these problems. The economy has done labor no favors recently, making it more important than ever to stand by those whose plight is our own.

What enables to the GEO to strive toward a better workplace environment for its members by (for example) advocating for LGBTQ rights and improving working conditions is your participation, your belief that everyone deserves a living wage and the right to work in safe conditions without fear of discrimination. These are the challenges that have rallied individuals to union causes for over a century and these are the challenges we continue to face today. Showing solidarity empowers laborers everywhere – not just those at UIC and not just those in higher education, but all workers.

Solidarity,

GEO

Join United Faculty and SEIU members at the Board of Trustees meeting this Wednesday, January 22nd at Student Center West at 9:30 am as we urge the university to negotiate and fairly settle their contracts.

9:30 AM-10:30AM
United Faculty action at Board of Trustees Meeting
Meet in Student Center West lobby
We will be holding signs urging the University to negotiate with the faculty union and not force them to strike.
11:00 AM-1:00PM
SEIU Rally
Student Center West Quad
SEIU will be holding a rally demanding that the University save their steps. SEIU has an annual raise for all employees built into their contract called “steps.” The University wants to replace these annual raises with the general campus raise system. Campus raises and infrequent and lower than SEIU’s steps and would mean that employees would see fewer and smaller raises over their years at UIC. SEIU and the University are entering federal mediation in their negotiations in hopes they will be able to come to an agreement that keeps their steps in place without a strike.

The University is currently in negotiations with two other campus unions: SEIU, which represents Service and Maintenance, Clerical and Administration, and Technical workers, and UF, which represents tenure and non-tenure faculty. This post will give you a sense of the stakes of SEIU’s contract negotiation; a post to follow soon will cover UF.

SEIU members have annual raises built into their contract. Each year, they receive a 2% to 4% anniversary increase as well as a union-wide cost of living increase. Their “steps,” as they call them, mean that SEIU workers’ wages have kept up with the economy, rather than stagnating. The University is proposing that they do away with the anniversary increase and instead impose merit-based raises. There are three key issues with the University’s proposal:

No oversight. With anniversary increases, workers can reliably expect a 2% to 4% raise every single year. With merit-based raises, no such promise exists. It is not simply that workers might not “merit” a raise (whatever that means), it is that when the University determines which workers receive wages and when they do, it is quite easy for the administration to give no raises, or small raises, citing either poor performance or a tight budget.

Favoritism. Merit-based raises might work in theory. However, they are not applied fairly to all workers, regardless of their quality of work. In a perfect world, good employees would be rewarded for their hard work and dedication. UIC is no perfect world. More likely, raises will be given to employees whose departments are favored by the administration. With no oversight, workers will have no way to fight against favoritism.

Bifurcation. At the same time, the merit-based system will create a two-class union: those employees who routinely earn raises and those who do not. It makes the already difficult process of union organizing and negotiating much harder if the union is under a contract that puts them in two separate groups with two wildly different sets of needs.

Getting rid of the step system is part of a national trend to depress workers’ wages, turning more and more formerly middle class workers into the working poor. With the anniversary raise system, a worker who was hired in 1990 at $8.52 per hour now makes $21.48 per hour, which translates to just under $45,000 per year. While that is a decent wage, it’s worth noting that UIC’s SEIU workers are actually paid less than UIUC’s SEIU workers, despite the fact that cost of living in Chicago is much higher than in Urbana-Champaign. Had the University only given the worker general campus wage increases, she would be earning $13.88 per hour, which translates to $28,870 per year—a low wage for full time work and insufficient to raise a family in Chicago. At a recent negotiation session, UIC’s chief negotiator told SEIU’s team that “none of [SEIU’s] positions are underpaid.” While that statement isn’t exactly true–if workers doing the same job make more per hour downstate, then all UIC SEIU workers are underpaid–it will be patently false if the University succeeds in cancelling SEIU’s anniversary raises.

Furthermore, any attack on a union, whether it take place on campus, in Chicago, in Illinois, or in Wisconsin, Ohio, Nevada, Texas, or Georgia, is an attack on all unions. The degradation of workers’ rights to collectively bargaining threatens all workers, no matter what sector they work in. Nationwide, workers’ wages and rights are being taking away, leading to greater and greater economic inequality. We stand with SEIU not simply because they make our work possible by maintaining our buildings and grounds, managing the massive bureaucratic systems we work under, and ensuring our classrooms, offices, and labs have functional equipment. We stand with SEIU because we stand with all workers. We stand for the right to organize with our fellow workers, the right to collectively bargain, and the right to be paid a living wage for our labor.

When the SEIU wins, workers win. That includes the GEO. SEIU’s victory will directly affect our negotiations. Because the University negotiates separately with each union, individual successes and losses at the negotiating table have a profound effect on other contract battles. For example: when SEIU saves their steps, UF can demand a similar clause be put into their contract; after all, if SEIU gets it, why shouldn’t they? Likewise, when one union wins a major wage increase, it sets the stage for the next union’s negotiating team to start at that level. Our success at the table last year has paved the way for SEIU and UF to have successful campaigns this year; GEO can build on their successes when we head back to the table in two years.

Solidarity is an practical and ideological commitment. Show yours by coming to the UF/SEIU rally on Wednesday, January 22nd, at 9:30 AM, Student Center West. Their fight is our fight.

March 12, 2013

 

Dear Chancellor Wise and the Board of Trustees,

 

The University of Illinois at Chicago Graduate Employees Organization (UIC GEO) is writing on behalf of its 1500 members to demand that you respect the collective bargaining process and immediately reach an agreement with Service Employees International United Local 73 (SEIU).

It is our understanding that the UIUC administration has engaged in bargaining that has been slow and unprofessional.  Considering that SEIU has been without a contract since July 2012, we are very skeptical of your arguments that fair wages are simply unacceptable and unreasonable.  While your administration typically argues that UIUC has no money, there have been Board of Trustees reports saying that the university has a $3 million reserve fund and, as such, we do not see any insurmountable hurdles to overcome for a fair contract.  Ultimately, it is your role as an employer to provide job and economic security for your employees, and you can provide that by settling a contract now with SEIU. They are an integral part of the university’s function and deserve your respect both in the process of negotiations and their working conditions.

Everyone involved shares an interest in the quality of education and employment at UIUC, and you have the power to demonstrate that you value the contributing members of your institution by prioritizing their needs at these basic levels of providing them with fair wages at your institution.

On behalf of UIC GEO, we strongly urge you to return to the bargaining table and take the necessary steps to negotiate a proper contract.

In Solidarity,

 

The Member of UIC Graduate Employees Organization