United Faculty, the labor union for faculty at University of Illinois – Chicago (UIC), won recognition in 2012 and has been negotiating their first contract for the past eighteen months. Now, on February 18 and 19, they will be going on strike. Union members took a strike vote in December; almost 80% of members voted, and 95% of them voted to authorize the strike. Graduate Students United, the non-recognized graduate employee union at the University of Chicago, stands in solidarity with these workers. United Faculty and administration (including, ultimately, the University of Illinois Board of Trustees) have come to agreement on some things, but key issues remain unresolved, including: fair and equitable compensation that takes into account furloughs and salary freezes in recent years; increased participation by the faculty senate in governing the curriculum and budget; and a living wage, multi-year contracts, and promotion system for non-tenure track faculty. The strike will also serve as a protest in support of an Unfair Labor Practice suit charging administration with unilaterally increasing health care premiums in the summer of 2013, effectively cutting faculty pay by 1%. Administration has increased tuition by 25% since 2007 (thus also increasing students’ debt burden) and currently maintains an unrestricted fund of more than one billion dollars. Yet, according to a union analysis, it has prioritized administrative bureaucracy over the school’s teaching and research mission: from 2008-13, administrative positions at UIC have increased by 10%, while tenured faculty positions have decreased by 1%. United Faculty is fighting to uphold the teaching and research mission of the university, affirming that faculty working conditions are students’ learning conditions.
The Graduate Employee Organization (GEO) at UIC has already affirmed its solidarity with the faculty. We share United Faculty’s and GEO’s vision of a fair teaching contract as one that pairs increased wages with improved shared governance. Graduate students at the University of Chicago have organized since 2007 for (among other rights) fair compensation for TAs and lecturers, equitable pay across departments and divisions, and better health care. In addition to helping improve work benefits and compensation, we’ve increased awareness at the university about the scope and quality of TA and lecturer work, as well as the power of organized student workers to help improve university services. As we’ve asked the university administration to redress oversights in its provision of campus services, we’ve shown that we are a body of students and student employees that believes in—and organizes to achieve—a more equitable campus. Like UIC graduate students and faculty, we envision a university where those who interact with undergraduates the most have a strong voice in the decision-making processes that shape the way our departments are run and the teaching and research services we provide.
We also admire the thriving alliance between UIC graduate students and faculty, and we believe it serves as a model for GSU and the University of Chicago. Not only does GSU hold a common vision of an equitable workplace with our colleagues at UIC, we also recognize and affirm that their struggles are ours. We stand with them not only on principle but also because we are both already part of one community. Both United Faculty and GSU are jointly affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), two key labor unions for grad students and faculty that together stand for workplace democracy, academic freedom, and shared governance. We are a community of educators, battling the corporatization of the university, which takes decision-making and power away from those who serve its purpose, and the privatization of all levels of education, including K-12 schools, which increasingly makes a shared and public endeavor serve the interests of a few. We are a community of workers, seeking that our voices and the voices of all who work with us and near us – in universities, in hospitals, in factories, in offices, in our streets, in our homes – are heard when we ask for decent wages and working conditions. We are a community of Chicagoans, living together and working to ensure that we and everyone in our city may live with security and dignity. At UIC and at the University of Chicago, we stand together.