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UIC Graduate Employees Organization Call for a Strike

University of Illinois at Chicago and the UIC GEO (Graduate Employees Organization) have been negotiating a contract since April of last year. In this most recent week, the UIC GEO has announced that they plan to strike on Monday, April 18th as a result of the University failing to strike a fair deal with student workers. Graduate student workers are asking for the bare minimum— such as living wages, an elimination of additional fees charged to graduate workers, and an expansion of protections for workers faced with discrimination, sexual assault, and harrassment. To spread awareness, they have created a petition that has circulated throughout the community, in which 5,368 community members have already sent letters to UIC administrators demanding a fair contract. 


For those who have been involved in the UIC community in years past, this is far from old news. Back in the Spring of 2019, UIC graduate workers coordinated their very first strike over issues similar to those they’re striking for today— “high student fees, poverty and the corporate higher education model.” At the time, graduate workers were paid a base salary of $18,000, which only amounted to $16,000 after having to cover up to $2000 in additional fees to the university. That salary placed them below the poverty line and unable to cover bare minimum living expenses. Based on a 2019 assessment conducted by Radical Public Health of UIC, it was found that more than half of the university’s graduate workers had to skip meals due to insufficient funds. These injustices faced by student workers gained nationwide attention and support from big names such as Senator Bernie Sanders. After three weeks of striking, the UIC GEO reached a consensus with UIC administration and were awarded a 14 percent raise over three years and a reduction of additional student fees. However, this victory was only the beginning of the hard-fought efforts of the UIC GEO in years to come. 


As of August 2020, graduate workers were paid a minimum of $20,615 annually for a 20-hour work week. This is certainly an improvement from their pay in 2019, but it’s still insufficient for the volume of work they do, both as teaching assistants and full on course instructors. Nevertheless, UIC administrators still had the audacity to propose an increase in the additional fees charged to graduate student workers, who argue that they shouldn’t have to pay additional fees to the university of whom they’re providing labor to. According to the Economic Policy Institute, “It is clear that graduate teaching and research assistants play an integral role in the internal economy of a university by helping to produce research and provide quality education. And yet the pay they receive rarely rises to the level of a living wage.” It’s disheartening to learn that not only UIC, but the broader system of higher education, prioritizes its profits over the wellbeing of its students. This becomes clear with the University of Illinois system having absolutely no hesitation in awarding a 40% raise to its President, Tim Killeen, back in 2020. The fact that the university system is able to pay its figurehead a salary of $835,000, while continuing to exploit its graduate student workers speaks for itself. 


The UIC GEO has plans to strike on Monday, April 18th and will be holding demonstrations in the university quad throughout the day. If you are unable to attend, feel free to show your support by sending a letter to university administration through this link

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