By Gina Gemmel
Sometimes people feel suspicious about the decision unions make. They’re not sure how unions come to their decisions, and they worry that the union will negotiate working conditions for them that are unfair. While it’s true that there have been instances where certain leaders have co-opted unions for their own gain and have little regard for workers, most unions have the well-being of their workers in mind. How do I know this? Because union leadership is comprised of workers.
We all know that a union is made up of workers, but we may not be aware of who makes up union leadership or who makes decisions for the union. The UIC-GEO is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT), so do they make the decisions? The answer is no. The GEO affiliates with these organizations to have greater solidarity with other workers who share our concerns. We will be publishing a post in the coming weeks with more information on why exactly we affiliate with larger organizations, but for now, the important thing is that the AFT and IFT don’t dictate the decisions our local union makes about working conditions.
So who does make the decisions? In the GEO, the decision-makers are your fellow graduate students who work as TAs, GAs, and RAs. The GEO has a Steering Committee comprised of graduate employees, and that Steering Committee takes into account the opinions of grad employees that we talk to on a regular basis, as well as the feedback of our Stewards Council. The Stewards Council is made up of grad employees from across the various departments at UIC, and their job is to stay informed on GEO issues and communicate with other students in their department about those issues, as well as listening to the concerns of the fellow students and communicating those to the rest of the GEO leadership. All of the people on the Steering Committee and Stewards Council are volunteers and do not receive any compensation for what they do. They do the work of the union because they are concerned about workers and more specifically, working conditions at UIC. Steering Committee members are elected once yearly, but grad employees are free to join the Stewards Council at any time. In addition to these two official bodies, the GEO also has committees devoted to particular issues that are open to all members to join at any time.
So the next time you are wondering how or why the GEO made a certain decision, be aware that the decision-making process belongs to you just as much as it does the “leaders” of the GEO. We strive at all times to be as open as possible; we want to address the concerns that our members bring to us, and we want to address them in the best possible way for our members. The best way for us to do this is to have a more involved membership. The Steering Committee makes decisions when necessary, but we hope that we will more often simply enact the will of an involved membership. If there is an issue that you feel strongly about that relates to your employment at UIC, let us know and we would be happy to make you a part of the decision-making process on that issue! For example, right now, we have a CampusCare Committee that has been meeting with the administration to make sure that grads have a say in any changes that are made to the CampusCare agreement. The CampusCare Committee, the committee that organizes this blog and its associated Teach-In (coming to a UIC venue near you in September and featuring Cary Nelson, president of the AAUP!!!), or the GA Tax Waiver Bargaining Team are all open to any grad employee. In addition, we currently taking nominations for next year’s Steering Committee members, and elections will be held on April 20th. Nominating yourself or someone you believe in for a position and voting for next year’s leaders is a concrete way that you can begin to take part in your union’s decision-making process.