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: staff@uic-geo.net 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: geo@uic-geo.net.

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: geo@uic-geo.net.

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
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

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