– April 24, 2022 –
The Honorable J.B. Pritzker
James R. Thompson Center
100 W. Randolph, 16-100
Chicago, IL 60601
Dear Governor Pritzker,
I am the organizing chair of the UIC Graduate Employees Organization (GEO), the union representing over 1500 Teaching and Graduate Assistants at the University of Illinois at Chicago. We have been on an indefinite strike for a fair contract since Monday April 18, following over a year of negotiations with the university administration. Shamefully, this is the second contract cycle in a row that the University has forced the graduate workers of GEO to go on strike to safeguard workplace rights.
We are on strike for basic financial stability in the form of fee relief and good wages. Most of us make as little as $20,600 a year while teaching as many classes as faculty, in addition to our full-time studies. Despite making so little, we are required to pay up to $2,000 in university fees each year. Combined with Chicago’s high cost of living, our low wages and high fees lock us into a state of constant financial distress. This negatively impacts our work and our studies, undermining the university’s mission and turning away prospective graduate students who would rather enroll at universities with more competitive economic packages in other states.
Presently, students are one week away from final exams. Since TA’s are responsible not only for the majority of exam preparation, but the vast majority of the grading of all exams, this places UIC at the precipice of a crisis. Should the strike continue into finals the university will be unable to fulfill its educational goals.
Undergraduates and faculty report that most classes last week were canceled as a result of our work stoppage. Exams and assignments are not being graded. Prospective students visiting campus have seen our pickets. The strike is hindering UIC’s normal operations and further tarnishing the reputation of public higher education in Illinois. Undergraduates and faculty have overwhelmingly expressed support for us and, like us, they blame the dispute entirely on the callousness of the university administration.
We have met with the administration four times since the strike began, but their position remains unchanged. Without explanation, they refuse to bargain over fee freezes or waivers. Because fee increases serve as an indirect pay cut to union-represented employees, they must be addressed in our contract. With only six days of instruction remaining in the semester, students are wondering whether Teaching and Graduate Assistants will still be on strike during finals.
We are growing increasingly concerned that the intransigence and recklessness of the university administration will do serious long-term damage to our students’ learning conditions and to the university’s reputation. As a champion for workers’ rights and higher education, and as the chief executive of the state, we implore you to take action to ensure that UIC becomes a more attractive institution to work and pursue an education.
GEO Organizing Chair