Join fellow GEO and United Faculty members for a joint meeting this Wednesday, September 10th at 4:30 pm at the IFT Office (850 W. Jackson, Suite 220–bring your ID to enter the building). We’ll be joined by Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery as he discusses the upcoming elections season. If you’re interested in knowing more about what’s at stake in this election, or you’d like to get involved, come on out!
Yesterday, United Faculty reached a tentative agreement for both the tenure-track and non-tenure track faculty contracts. Details will be discussed at membership meetings (times TBD) and will be released to the public after the members vote. As a result, the strike has been averted.
Congratulations to all of the United Faculty members!
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 email@example.com.
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.
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.
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.
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.
UIC Graduate Employees Organization
The possibility of a walkout by UIC United Faculty may create a difficult situation for graduate workers who have professional relationships with faculty who are their advisors, supervisors, and/or committee members, as well as fellow union members. The following FAQ is meant to inform GEO members how they can support United Faculty while considering their obligations under the GEO contract. Members who would like to discuss their concerns or details about their particular situation should feel free to contact the GEO: firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-733-9641.
What will a strike by the United Faculty look like?
A strike can take many forms, but basically, a strike is when workers withhold their labor. This may mean canceled classes, no grades, and no responses to work-related emails. Typically, striking workers will walk picket lines in front of buildings on campus, and rally or march through campus or the streets surrounding it. The picket line is meant to shut down the University. Crossing a picket line can be a stressful situation because it could appear that you are not supporting the workers on strike.
Am I obligated to support the walkout?
GEO is in solidarity with all unionized workers on campus and off. The GEO submitted a letter to the University in solidarity with the United Faculty. Walkouts are an historically important way for workers to attain important rights and secure a living wage in exchange for their labor. The extent to which each individual union member expresses their solidarity or participates in labor actions is a matter of individual conscience.
What does the GEO contract stipulate about my support of the walkout?
As stipulated by law, the GEO has a “No Strike” clause in its contract. The GEO contract states that members covered by the contract may not participate in a sympathy strike, i.e. withhold their labor, during the term of our agreement with the University. In the advent of a walkout or strike by United Faculty, grad workers may not withhold their labor (e.g. cancel class, not show up for a scheduled shift, etc). However, we can support faculty in other ways. Our contract allows us to support the faculty on our own time. GEO members have the right to participate in peaceful, legal demonstrations when we are not on the clock.
A faculty member in my department told me that I don’t have to cross the picket line as long as I perform my work duties off campus. What does that mean for me?
Before making any decisions, you should contact the union or look to the union for guidance. Faculty members cannot guarantee that grad workers will not face consequences for appearing to withhold their labor from the University. The GEO is committed to its members and representing their best interests. It is important to keep in mind that contracts do not exist in a vacuum–the meaning of contract language is based on mutual understanding between the University and union, as well as precedent and in case law. For this reason, the GEO and its lawyers are better suited to help their members understand their contract and responsibilities.
What will happen if my actions are interpreted as violating the GEO contract’s “No Strike” clause?
A violation of the “No Strike” clause may result in termination from your assistantship. Each GEO member needs to decide for themselves if they will risk termination from their assistantship. Representation by the GEO and its lawyers is will be provided to GEO members who request it (and we have the best labor lawyers!). However, immediate reinstatement of assistantships and recuperation of lost wages is not guaranteed.
If my supervisor is supportive of the walkout and cancels a class for which I am a TA, what should I do?
It can be very encouraging to work with a supervisor that is supportive of workers’ rights. If your supervisor cancels the class for which you are a TA, then you do not have to show up for the cancelled class. However, any discussion sections, grading, office hours, emails, or other duties that you have in relation to your TAship will still stand and will need to be completed.
If my supervisor is supportive of the walkout and instructs me not to come in for a scheduled shift for my GAship, what should I do?
Contact the union for more advice about your specific situation: email@example.com.
My advisor/supervisor does not support the walkout: how should I handle it?
For most TAs and GAs, your supervisor is the main person who oversees and can report on whether or not you complete your work. For this reason, you should be sure to complete all duties as assigned. If you do not want to cross the picket line but fear your decision will prevent you from completing your TA or GA duties as assigned or otherwise negatively impact your assistantship, contact the union for advice: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Can I participate in the “student walkout” that students are discussing in conjunction with UIC United Faculty’s potential strike?
GEO members are in a unique position because they hold student and employee status simultaneously. The University has a tendency to evoke one status or the other as it suits their purposes. GEO members may participate in the “student walkout” in their capacity as students (i.e. skip classes in which they are enrolled as a student). The consequences, if any, will be academic. However, you may not withhold your labor as a TA or GA with the excuse that you are a student. When you are working for the University, you are an employee and beholden to the union contract.
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
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
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.
UIC United Faculty Executive Board and Representative Assembly