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UIC Graduate Student Union and Faculty Union Dispute Contracts, Tensions Escalate with University

Tom Ackerman | Posted on February 28, 2019

Courtesy of UIC Faculty Union

The Graduate Employees Organization has voted to authorize a strike if demands surrounding better wages and appointment policies are not met. Meanwhile, UIC faculty union members met Friday with the administration to further negotiate their own terms and received news that the University would agree to include mediation between the two parties.

UIC Graduate Student Union and Faculty Union Dispute Contracts, Tensions Escalate with University

Courtesy of UIC Faculty UnionUIC Faculty Union in Protest

Both union’s negotiations have been ongoing and they are disputing their most recent contract. The contracts are re-negotiated every three years.

“We’re following protocol,” UIC United Faculty, Local 6456, President and Professor Smith said. “We’re trying mediation in good faith and at the same time, if we need to, we are preparing for [a strike],” Smith said issues on the table involve monetary topics but are also about asking for respect.

Smith said the university presented its understanding of the budget being debated Friday. She said members of the union attended the meeting, which is not routine. Provost Susan Poser sent an email to faculty members, which was a union member meeting day. The meeting gathered 120 members to discuss current happenings.

Provost Poser described her concerns about the negotiations, which have occurred since June. “My concern is not only with the lack of complete information on union-controlled social media, but significantly, it also comes from my concern that the unions are proposing changes to the contract that will impinge upon the long-established and well-functioning faculty governance mechanisms at UIC, both at the department and college levels, and through the faculty senate.”

The letter included the university’s understandings of the numbers being disputed, which can be found on UIC web pages.

UIC faculty union formed in 2010 and was recognized by the university in 2012. The first contract was agreed upon in 2014, which required a strike to meet initial agreements. Smith said this is not unreasonable as the union is young and relations need to be developed, but said the university is setting a precedence of allowing negotiations to reach the level of a strike as a bargaining option.

Smith said she isn’t an accountant but she can understand there is money in reserve that may be used for additional wages and funding. Smith also referenced Illinois new governor J.B. Prtizker’s proposed increases to higher education funding and hopes the university will recognize incoming revenue as a reason to further support union requests.

The faculty union is asking for easier routes to tenure tracks and better living wages.

Smith said many colleagues leave the school for other jobs, despite UIC reaching its highest enrollment and investing in the current construction projects. She said some of her colleagues have left tenured teaching positions at UIC for non-tenured positions elsewhere, due to low pay. Others have worked at the university for around a decade and have not received tenure, she said.

The Graduate student union is also seeking increased living wages. Their demand for changes with appointment policies refer to the often last-minute responses graduate students hear, that informs them of being employed for the next semester or not, GEO Co-president Jeff Schuhrke said. He added that the union is asking for each department to list their own criteria for Graduate student applications, and there is currently no standard with which to refer.

The Graduate student union will announce intent to strike if requests are not further compromised after the February 26 meeting with university officials. “We’re willing to compromise, but [the university] will have to meet us halfway,” Schuhrke said.

Schuhrke said the issues are especially relevant to international students because many visas will not allow for students to work outside of the university. He said they rely on funds allotted to them by UIC. He said he understands some members rely on the university’s food pantry.

Graduate students earn around $18,000 per year but pay around $2,000 in fees.

Additionally, Schuhrke and Smith referenced how multiple unions on campus have in many ways, become a coalition. At a November board of trustees meeting, 100 members from four unions held a silent protest, including Graduate students, the faculty union, the IL Nurses Association, and technical workers at both the hospital and academic departments, which ultimately compromise 8,000 workers at UIC, Schuhrke said.

He also said the Urbana Champaign campus has expressed support if strikes are to occur. UIC members have supported strikes at the Urbana Champaign campus.

Much of the dialogue from both faculty and graduate student unions has surrounded conversation on comparable living wages, by looking at other Chicago schools, like Northwestern and University of Chicago. While contracts are different at the Urbana Champaign campus, union members refer to much lower costs of living than in Chicago.

The Roosevelt Institute is a student policy organization that began meeting with faculty union on topics like affordable housing. Brenton Boitse and Kevin Cao are now included in a working group that is attempting to understand the union contract negotiations. They have had two meetings so far, and hope other students will become educated.

They say it is a unique and pivotal time to evaluate what it means to have public good. “This is what we have seen in Chicago public schools,” Boitse said. “It has reached a boiling point as a whole and there is new hope for a momentum swing now,” he said.

Cao referenced the all-time high enrollment and large construction occurring. “When I graduate, I want my alma matter to mean something,” he said.



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