Dear GEO Members:

United Faculty, which represents all full-time UIC faculty (tenure and non-tenure), is planning a two-day walkout for Tuesday, February 18th and Wednesday, February 19th. This is an exciting opportunity for graduate employees and other campus workers to show our solidarity with the faculty in their contract negotiations. Faculty members cannot prohibit you from participating in the strike or other solidarity activities when you are off the clock. Nor can they require you to participate in union activities. We want to make sure all of our members know their rights and responsibilities in the event of another union’s labor action on campus.

The GEO contract contains a “no strike” clause that legally bars us from endorsing a sympathy strike and subjects any GA or TA to disciplinary action if they choose to withhold their labor in solidarity with UF. (RAs, graduate hourly employees, and graduate students on fellowship are not covered by our contract. While that means they are not legally prohibited from sympathy striking, it also means that they are not entitled to union representation. We do not know what the consequences will be, if any, for RAs, grad hourly employees, or fellows who honor faculty picket lines.) There are, however, a number of ways you can support the faculty:

• March with faculty during your off-hours.
• Respect picket lines whenever possible (i.e., don’t cross the line unless you absolutely must in order to complete your job duties).
• Explain the issues to your students, colleagues, friends, and family.
• Hang a “Proud Union Office” or “Proud Union Lab” on your door. If you would like one of these, please email the GEO at the email address below and we will make sure you get one.
• Tell a faculty member that their fight is our fight.

Whether or not any member chooses to cross the picket line is a matter of personal conscience. That said, GEO wants all members to understand that you may face disciplinary action for violating the “no strike” clause only if you choose to participate in the faculty strike by withholding labor (for example, canceling classes and office hours, refusing to report to work for GA hours, or intentionally ignoring student emails). These disciplinary penalties for violating the “no strike” clause could include dismissal. If, as the result of their participation in the faculty labor action, GEO members are subject to disciplinary action, they should immediately contact GEO: all union members are entitled to union representation.

If you have any questions or concerns about the strike, please contact us at geo@uic-geo.net.

At the Board of Trustees retreat on Wednesday, January 22, both President Easter and Trustee Pam Strobel explained that the purpose of their retreats was to ensure that the U of I system fulfilled the promises of the land grant college mission. (For those of you not versed in the history of land grant colleges, they were founded in the 19th century as an alternative to traditional higher education, which focused on the liberal arts and was the privilege of the very wealthy. Many land grant colleges specialized in professional training: agriculture, mining, engineering, and the sciences.) One of the central premises of land grant colleges is that a practical post-secondary education would allow poor Americans to enter the middle class. UIC, in particular, was moved from its original location on Navy Pier to its current location because Richard J. Daley believed that expanding the university would improve the lives of Chicago’s working class and their children.

Certainly, a lot has changed since the land grant system was started over 150 years ago and since UIC moved to the Circle Campus in 1965. But, UIC’s historic commitment to a practical education for all, regardless of their economic background, should not change. Increasing tuition (30% since 2007) and shrinking faculty numbers and pay threaten this mission. If the Board of Trustees is truly interested in fulfilling its historical mission, a good way to start would be to pay its faculty fair wages.

 

United Faculty, the union that represents full-time faculty at UIC, has been in negotiations with the University since September 2011 and have had over sixty negotiating sessions. They entered federal mediation in November 2013. UF and the University have come to a number of tentative agreements; the sticking points are, no surprise, mostly financial. Here is what UF is asking for:

  • Shared governance with administration over curriculum and budgeting.

  • Tenure track (TT) employees will be given a 3.5% raise. The University has offered them a 2.75% increase. To put these numbers in context, non-union UIC employees (including non-unionized faculty in the Colleges of Dentistry and Medicine, academic professionals, and administrators) received 2.75% to 3.25% raises in 2013. And downstate at UIUC, faculty received 4.15% to 4.65% raises. The faculty’s demands are by no means extravagant.

  • Non-tenure track (NTT) employee minimum will be raised from $30,000 to $45,000 a year. This works out to a raise from $5,000 per class taught to $7,500 per class.

The raise in the NTT minimum sounds like a lot, and the University keeps claiming that they simply don’t have the money to pay the increased salaries. Independent audits of the University’s budget, however, indicate otherwise: a June 2013 report stated that the University’s financial position is strong. There are now over $1 billion in unrestricted funds, having grown $287 million in the past year; UF’s salary increases would cost approximately $3.5 million per year. It’s clear there are the funds available, but paying instructors seems not to be the University’s highest priority. The conclusion I draw from the University’s unwillingness to pay instructors living wages is that education is no longer their highest priority. Perhaps the new face of land grant colleges is one that values home redecoration over undergraduate education. That, at least, UIC is willing to invest money in.

 

UF authorized a strike in December, with over 95% of their members voting to strike. A walk out is anticipated soon if the University doesn’t begin to take UF’s demands seriously. Hopefully, today’s action sent a message that UF is going to fight for a good and fair contract. If not, the University is in for a shock when its core employees refuse to teach classes, grade papers, meet with students, or serve on committees. No matter what, GEO stands by UF: their fight is our fight.

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

Dear Members and Supporters,

Our IFT representative Andrew has reached out to us with a call to action. On December 3rd–no coincidence that the state legislature picked a date that is after their election petitions are due and in the midst of the busy holiday season–they will vote on a bill that will gut pensions for unionized state employees. Although we don’t have all the details yet, reports indicate that the bill will:

Cap pensions for all employees, regardless of years of service;
Reduce cost of living adjustments;
Raise the retirement age;
And reduce benefits employees have already paid for.

While GEO members will not be affected by the bill, every single unionized state employee will be affected, including our brothers and sisters in UF and SEIU, as well as firefighters and police officers. And, if all of isn’t grim enough, these are usually the sorts of bills that get passed right before the legislature goes for a right-to-work bill, as we saw in Wisconsin just a few years before. Let’s make it clear what kind of trouble they’ll be in if they even *think* about union-busting in Illinois.

We recognize that Illinois needs to balance its budget, but they can’t do it on the backs of workers!

So, all of us need to do three things:

Call (888) 412-6570 and follow the prompts to speak with your state Representative and Senator. Tell them you oppose any legislation opposed by IFT, and that you will be paying attention to their vote.
Tell everyone you know about this. The consequences of a bill like this are far-reaching. Not only will many unionized employees at UIC be affected, but, throughout the state, workers will find their ability to retire (or, if they are already retired, their comfort) severely impacted. We need to stand up to the state on this issue.
Mark December 2 on your calendars: the IFT will be calling for a day of action–details will come out as soon as I have them.
I do wish I could provide more details of the bill, but the legislature is (for good reason) keeping it under tight wraps. As soon as I have more definitive information, I’ll send it out.

Please send this (or a condensed version of it) out to your colleagues and friends. Let’s show Springfield what happens when they threaten unions!

SOLIDARITY!

November 22, 2013

Will County Board,

The University of Illinois at Chicago Graduate Employees Organization (UIC GEO) is writing on behalf of its 1,500 members to demand that you respect the collective bargaining process and immediately reach an agreement with AFSCME Local 1028.

It is our understanding that Will County Board has engaged in bargaining that refuses to offer fair wages and health benefits package. The Board continues to insist that union members receive only a minor increase in pay while health care costs for the members will double. After four years with no pay increase, the members AFSCME Local 1028 deserve a fair contract that will not functionally lower their standard of living.

Everyone involved in bargaining recognizes the importance of the local employees to the day-to-day operations of the county: AFSCME Local represents more than 1,200 employees throughout the county including the court system, health department, and county sheriff. It is time for the board to recognize the work the employees perform by settling a fair contract.

On behalf of UIC GEO, we strongly urge you to take the necessary steps to negotiate with county employees. The GEO commits its support to AFSCME Local 1028 in their effort to negotiate a fair contract.

In Solidarity,

The Steering Committee of the Graduate Employees Organization

November 20, 2013

Alderman Tom Tunney
44th Ward, City of Chicago
3223 N. Sheffield Ave
Chicago, IL, 60657

Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals
121 N LaSalle St #905
Chicago, IL 60602

Dear Alderman Tunney and the Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals:

We are writing this letter to express our support for the youth and homeless services located in your ward and the congregations that sponsor and/or house them. As members of the Graduate Employees Organization, we share the vision of a diverse, united North Side of Chicago where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.

We respect the efforts you have made, along with service providers, to encourage community dialogue and agreement. We want to support those efforts in any way possible.

At this point, we know that the issue of Broadway Youth Center’s use of space at Wellington UCC is at the forefront. Howard Brown Health Center and BYC have been community partners and provide a much needed service to young people struggling in our community and city. We value and support their work. Wellington UCC has been a pillar in the community for 103 years, and we support their right to meet their mission and values by housing BYC.

We want to assure you that many people in the community value these services and we encourage you to continue your strong support. Please feel free to contact us at 312-733-9641 or geo@uic-geo.net to discuss this further.

Sincerely,

The Steering Committee of the UIC Graduate Employees Organization

cc: Chicago Zoning Board of Appeals
cc: Alderman Tom Tunney
cc: Howard Brown Health Center

To: Indiana University Students, Staff, and Faculty

The UIC GEO stands in solidarity with the IU students, staff and faculty in their pursuit of fair and equal treatment under University guidelines. It has come to the attention of the UIC GEO that individuals at IU have come together to fight for educational justice, a struggle similar to that which we are currently enduring. UIC GEO is currently in its 11th month of bargaining for a new contract. Graduate Employees are currently paid a minimum of about $14,500, even though the administration estimates the cost of living is around $17,900. The University has over $300 million in unrestricted funds, yet will not even agree to an annual cost of living adjustment. We have recently passed an intent to strike vote, almost unanimously, and are now making plans for a strike.

The UIC GEO would like to applaud those at IU who work toward strengthening public education and its access, especially for students of color. We would also like to add that we are paying close attention to the administration’s response to movements on your campus. We find courage and strength in our struggle through your struggle with IU administration on your demands. Please know that we support
your upcoming strike.

In solidarity,
University of Illinois at Chicago Graduate Employee Organization

The members of UIC United Faculty Local 6456 stand in solidarity with the
members of the UIC Graduate Employees Organization Local 6297 as they
fight for a fair contract. We demand that the University recognizes the
vital work that graduate assistants perform on campus and provide a
reasonable proposal with a living wage.
The University’s financial aid office estimates that the cost of living in
Chicago is $17,958. However, the minimum wage for a graduate
employee is $14,565. TAs and GAs make $3,300 less than a living wage
and, as such, live 124% below the poverty level. The added expense of
rising tuition differentials and fees means that many TAs and GAs live on
even less than the minimum. According to an independent analysis of
University finances by Howard Bunsis, Professor of Accounting at Eastern
Michigan University, UIC has accumulated approximately $300 million in
unrestricted funds. By dedicating less than one percent of those funds to
graduate employees’ wages, the University could pay GAs and TAs a
living wage.
Providing graduate employees a living wage means not only improving
their quality of life, but also creating working conditions that will allow
the University to thrive. Ultimately, the University claims to be a world
class institution, but its success is dependent on its educators, staff, and
students. If it continues to alienate those who are integral to its mission
through low wages and high fees, how can it claim to reach its goals?
GEO’s fight is about more than simply a living wage; union members are
fighting for their students, their university, and the future of public
education.
We as faculty members recognize the important roles that GAs and TAs
perform at UIC and demand that the University provide them with a fair
contract. We echo the GEO’s theme- UIC works because we do.

 

Signed,
UIC United Faculty Executive Board and Representative Assembly

UIC United Fac Logo 

 

The members of GEO received a major message of support yesterday from none other than Dr. Cornel West, well-known social justice activist, author, and professor. He says:

“I wholeheartedly support my brothers and sisters of the UIC GEO! Stay strong and stand tall!
Love,
Cornel West”

Thanks, Dr. West, for the message of solidarity!
Dr. WEst