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  • Writer's picturercai48

UIC Faculty Strike: An Ongoing Struggle Between the University and the Teachers

Photo via @uicfacultyunion

The biting chill of another Chicago winter hits me as I make my way through the front doors of Student Center East and into UIC’s east campus. Its not as cold as it used to be and there isn’t any snow, but that doesn’t mean I can’t complain about it. Yet as I made my way towards the quad I was struck by the sounds of makeshift drums and synchronized chants.

A group of — what I can only presume — over a hundred members of UIC faculty mixed with students and supporters were marching around the quad and all around the campus demanding the same things they have always demanded: fair wages and better environments for students.

Photo via @uicfacultyunion

January 16, 2023 was the final day for negotiation between the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and the faculty union, UIC United Faculty, before a strike was planned to be held. The date for the strike, January 17th, was determined on November 17th of 2022 after the faculty had been working without a contract since August 16th of that year.

The last strike to occur at UIC was held by the graduate student workers union during April of 2022. The previous contract negotiations between UIC and the faculty union were concluded in April of 2019, narrowly avoiding a second strike in the same month after the previous graduate student strike.

The cause of the current strike and the main topic of the ongoing negotiations between the university and the union concerns two main points: providing mental health care to students and increasing the salaries of faculty members.

Faculty staff is requesting the university provide additional mental health assistance to students due to the increase in mental heath issues amongst the student body. Student mental health is being quoted as “the poorest” it has ever been (1) since some faculty members have joined. These issues have led to delays in classwork and testing for some students which, in turn, increases the amount of work for professors.

To that end, the University has promised to commit $4.47 million in student mental health services over the next six years (2) as of January 16th. The university cites these commitments to be “a university-wide, holistic project that is not associated with a single union contract.”(2) While these changes do seem to be in line with the requests that the faculty union have made, particularly involving free assessments for students regarding depression, ADHD, Autism, and other neurotypical functions — assessments that are already free at UIUC — they highlight a constant problem the faculty union faces.

Photo via @uicfacultyunion

In previous negotiations, university leaders have told faculty that contract negotiations were not the place to bring up student issues. Citing state laws which allow for university administrators to refuse bargaining over anything that is not related to worker compensation and working conditions.

The problem with this statement is that it places student mental health as being outside of the working conditions of professors, which is a strong stance to take considering the oftentimes direct link between mental health and the environment within the classroom and the working hours of faculty (3). To disassociate mental health with the working conditions of the faculty could set a dangerous precedent for what is considered within working conditions, which could damage the relationship between the university, the faculty and the student body.

The faculty union is also requesting annual salary raises to match the rate of inflation as well as increasing the minimum salaries of staffers. This point stems back to the previous negotiation period between UIC and the union in 2019. That year, negotiations were centered around establishing minimum pay for non-tenured professors as well as raises to existing professors to correct any pay inequalities (4).

Photo via @uicfacultyunion

As of 2023, the university claims that the current demands of the union “exceeds the university’s offer by more than $17.3 million over [the course of] three years.”(5) They also claim that the increase could cause financial hardships to the university which would negatively affect the students.

As of the 17th, the faculty union seems to be standing firm with their demands. This is likely due to the general increase in the cost of living over the last several years. As the position of university professor continues to expand in terms of roles as well as the amount of work required, it seems fair to request an increase in pay to account for the additional time spent working. To what degree the faculty will hold firm in terms of the amount wages increase remains to be seen.

Still, as I watch them march I am hit with a familiar feeling. This same scene has played out repeatedly throughout my four years with the university. Likewise, similar strikes have occurred throughout my youth between Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union. It feels as though the struggle between the administration and the teachers will continue as long as the teachers continue to feel under-valued.

And honestly? More power to them. Anyone who has spent any time teaching knows how difficult and time consuming the job can be. It only makes sense that this position which requires a great amount of skill be compensated fairly. And the unions have, at least historically, done just that.



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