Let Your Views Be Known NOW in Our Bargaining Survey

 

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On the morning of February 23, 2018 executive vice-provost David Nirenberg sent out an email to the UChicago community announcing what he termed a “collective self-study” in the coming months meant to “sustain and improve the possibilities for graduate student life, education, and research.”

It seems the message elicited some skepticism. Perhaps because there was no clear timeline, nor discussion of accountability or decision-making authority. Perhaps because we’ve seen other such inquiries come and go with miminal change. And perhaps because the message came from someone who publicly testified, less than a year ago, that “in a class of 19, having someone grading is not a relief to me” (see pages 202-203 of the May 19th transcripts of last year’s NLRB hearing).

But we agree with Dr. Nirenberg that our views as graduate students (and as university employees) are important. If you think so too, you don’t need to wait for the admin’s process to begin. GSU’s bargaining priorities survey is already underway, and it stays open until Friday, March 1. If you are a graduate employee on this campus and haven’t received an email about it yet, you can request a secure, confidential survey link here.

You can let your concerns be known RIGHT NOW–and we’re pretty confident that we ask questions that the administration would rather avoid.

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Solidarity Statement for GEO at UIUC

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We, Graduate Students United (GSU) at the University of Chicago, support the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) in their effort to bargain a fair contract with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Graduate employees at UIUC have been without a contract since August 2017 and have been in negotiations since March 2017. We urge Provost Cangellaris to accept the GEO’s proposals for a new collective bargaining agreement which preserves graduate employees’ tuition waivers, pays them a living wage, and provides them and their dependents with affordable, accessible healthcare and childcare resources.

Graduate employees perform essential work for UIUC as Teaching and Graduate Assistants. At some point, every undergraduate student is taught by a graduate instructor, and over 2,500 graduate workers on this campus provide invaluable labor. In fact, Illinois ranks 6th in the country among universities where graduate employees teach the most classes. Grad employees make Illinois work.

UIUC administration is attempting to cut the tuition waivers that are an essential part of grad workers’ compensation. They insist on removing protections for tuition waivers that GEO won in 2009, and fought to keep in 2012. They want to give themselves “authority to waive tuition” and the “right to determine and modify tuition waivers for each graduate program,” enabling them to not only cut tuition waivers, but to replace waiver-generating appointments with hourly graduate positions not covered by GEO’s contract. They’ve also recently revealed a plan to legally prevent GEO from striking over tuition waivers, a drastic measure that shows their intent to break the union: by replacing graduate appointments covered by GEO’s contract, the administration would have the power to erode and ultimately eliminate GEO’s bargaining unit.

On top of this, UIUC administration refuses to pay graduate workers a living wage, and refuses to provide health care and child care resources for those with dependents. Teaching and Graduate Assistants making the minimum salary earn about $6,000 less than the University’s own published cost of living and most have not received a raise in five years. The administration is also refusing to provide healthcare coverage for dependents of graduate workers, or a childcare subsidy for graduate worker parents. Without these important benefits, graduate workers will not have financial stability and graduate school will not be equally accessible to everyone.

For these reasons, the GEO has declared that it will strike on February 26th to protect both tuition waivers and its survival.

GSU urges Provost Cangellaris and the University bargaining team to work with GEO to provide graduate employees with a fair contract. If the Graduate Employees’ Organization is forced to strike, we understand that this drastic measure signals the University administration’s unwillingness to resolve negotiations at the bargaining table. GSU will support actions deemed necessary by GEO to protect themselves, undergraduates, and the integrity and quality of education at the University of Illinois. All graduate employees, students, and workers deserve better living, learning, and working conditions.

GSU Statement on the Stephen Bannon Invitation

We, at GSU, are writing to express our opposition to the proposed Stephen Bannon “debate” at the University of Chicago. By approving the invitation to Bannon, the university confirms its disregard for the emotional and material well being of its student population. Bannon, whose career has been fueled by racist, anti-semitic, Islamophobic, anti-LGBTQ, anti-immigrant, and white supremacist politics, has no place at our university. It is in particularly bad faith for the university to invoke and defend Bannon’s right to freedom of expression when his white supremacist ideology and policies have already diminished the freedom of women, people of color and marginalized populations. Following on the heels of an aggressive proliferation of anti-union propaganda, the administration’s decision to grant Bannon a platform fuels a growing sense that it is committed to a perverted conception of freedom: where “freedom” in fact signifies the right of the administration to exclude the voices of the student population. Furthermore, the invitation to Bannon demonstrates a reckless lack of consideration for the larger community in which the University of Chicago is situated. Granting Bannon an outlet betrays the university’s espoused commitment to nurturing a diverse environment.

GSU endorses UofC Resists, UChicago YDSA, UChicago Socialists-ISO, and Reparations at UChicago in their ongoing organizing against the Bannon event. We believe that providing Bannon a platform contradicts the values of democracy and tolerance that the university claims to support, and for which GSU will continue to struggle.

How We’ll Win Our Contract

Colleagues,

In October, graduate workers at the University of Chicago made history: we voted 1103-479 to demand that the university recognize our union, Graduate Students United (GSU). In the months since, the University of Chicago administration has refused to respect the results of that election and begin bargaining a contract. They have made clear in recent public statements that they intend to continue their appeal to the Trump-controlled National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and seek to overturn the board’s 2016 Columbia decision that recognized graduate workers across the country as what we are: employees.

Today, Graduate Students United withdrew our certificate of representation granted by the NLRB in order to prevent the University of Chicago from using the Trump Administration to overturn the Columbia precedent. This decision was made by a vote of members at our weekly open organizing committee meeting, based on concerns that a review of our case was imminent. Just today, the University administration filed a letter with the NLRB asking that “The Board should grant Chicago’s RFR [Request for Review], reverse the Regional Director’s decision and overrule Columbia.”

This action became necessary because of developments at the national level. Since taking office, Donald Trump has appointed two new members to the five-member NLRB. These appointees moved quickly to undo a number of pro-worker decisions that were made under the Obama administration. This week the U.S. Senate is advancing the confirmation of his third appointment, John Ring; at the same time, the UChicago administration argued today against the recusal of Trump appointee Marvin Kaplan (whose wife works for Columbia University) from presiding over cases related to the Columbia precedent in a naked attempt to strip graduate workers of our rights. We believe that these new NLRB appointees will overturn the Columbia precedent, meaning that it could take years for graduate workers to regain their legal status as employees even after a new president appoints a new board. It’s clear that the Trump appointees don’t have the best interests of workers like us at heart, and therefore we plan to pursue alternate pathways toward winning recognition and a contract.

To be very clear: Graduate Students United is still a union, and we look forward to meeting the UChicago administration at the bargaining table. The University of Chicago and other universities are using the NLRB as a vehicle to deny our rights and not respect our vote, our win, and our demand to bargain. In response, GSU is joining graduate unions at other institutions who have withdrawn from the NLRB process and are instead demanding recognition directly from their universities. Many unions across the country have reached private agreements with their employers independent from the NLRB. Through our organizing, GSU has built the power to wage a campaign to win such an agreement. Our union has the support of a supermajority of graduate employees at UChicago, whose work is necessary for the university to function.

We live in a moment when we all must do our part to fight back against the powerful interests that are working to undermine democracy. Accordingly, we cannot allow the Trump administration and UChicago to set an anti-democratic and anti-worker legal precedent for the entire country. However, we are equally determined to not allow Zimmer and Diermeier to ignore the results of our election, and we will continue to campaign until they recognize our decision and come to the table.

We are moving forward with our efforts to build our local in partnership with our affiliates, AFT/IFT/AAUP. In the coming weeks, we will hold officer elections and continue the process of setting up our union organization. If you are a member, we will be reaching out soon with more specific information about how to get involved in these processes. If you are not yet a member, sign a membership card today or reach out and we can answer any questions you have.

A union is a group of workers acting collectively to better their working conditions. Together, we will win recognition and a union contract that guarantees living wages, quality healthcare, and fair treatment for all graduate workers at UChicago.

Statement on the GOP Tax Bill

As the Republican tax bill proceeds through the conference committee process, we as graduate students are seriously concerned with the threat of a multi-thousand dollar tax increase in the coming year. If taxation of tuition waivers as income, also known as the ‘Grad Tax,’ appears in the final form of the bill, most graduate workers will find it difficult, if not impossible, to continue their current work. Further, underrepresented and lower-income groups will be disproportionately affected. GSU and other grad unions across the country have been calling, writing, and protesting for weeks to call attention to these threats   The speed with which this bill passed the House and Senate underlines the structural instability of academic work, the necessity for a real say in determining our working conditions, and shows why a strong majority of grad workers at this campus voted to unionize in October. GSU is committed to pushing to stop this tax bill from passing. But if it should pass, we are committed to ensuring that the tax reform bill will not affect graduate livelihoods.

A top priority is to prepare for this bill’s potential impact on our campus community. GSU is consulting with lawyers from our our affiliate unions (AFT, IFT, and AAUP) to determine what the effect will be on graduate workers and how it depends on their field of study, how our pay is classified under the law, international student status, and so forth. This opens broader questions about who benefits from charging tuition for graduate workers, and why Chicago’s tuition rates are so exceptionally high. Answers to these questions have direct and material impact in light of this tax bill. In order to understand and respond to the bill’s ramifications, we need more open communication and collaboration with the administration, which does have the tax and legal expertise to accurately predict the relevant effects of the Grad Tax on our campus community and the power to mitigate them.

Therefore, we demand two actions of the administration:

  • First, we call on the university administration to open channels of communication with GSU to collaboratively determine the full effect of the bill.
  • Second, we call on the administration to commit publicly to ensuring that graduate student take-home pay will not be reduced, if the Grad Tax should become law. As the legally recognized bargaining representative of UChicago graduate workers, it is GSU’s mandate to defend the material interests of our members, and the administration’s responsibility to work with GSU in good faith.

GSU’s position is that any decrease in graduate pay is unacceptable, and as workers we will take whatever action is necessary in response to the threat posed by the Grad Tax.

We will continue to update you as the situation unfolds. Given the fact that this harmful tax bill has not yet been passed, we encourage you members to continue to call the congresspeopleand senators who are on the conference committee. If you have any questions, reach out to a Departmental Organizer or gsu@riseup.net.

In solidarity,

Department Organizers of GSU

Labor Beat Covers GSU’s Pre-Election Rally and Victory in Union-Recognition Elections on Oct 17-18

Labor Beat, a non-profit CAN TV Community Partner based in Chicago, IL, recently published a video on their YouTube channel covering our pre-election rally and victory in the union-recognition election at the University of Chicago on October 17-18.

The video includes an interview with Chaz Lee and Daniela Palmer, members of GSU and graduate employees in Music and Evolutionary Biology, respectively. In addition, the video includes scenes and some of the speeches by the speakers at our rally on Oct 16:

WE WON: Historic Landslide Victory for Grad Workers at UChicago

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We DID IT! After a decade of organizing, countless conversations, and a thrilling election closely followed across the country (see, for example, here, here, here and here), grad employees at the University of Chicago overwhelmingly voted YES to recognize Graduate Students United as their union!

This high-turnout, supermajority win represents grad workers’ strong mandate to advocate for their own interests on this campus. The university administration is now legally obligated to bargain with us, the employees that keep our university afloat with our real labor as teaching assistants, research assistants, course assistants, workshop coordinators, writing interns, preceptors, language assistants, instructors, and lecturers.

We have a strong union. We claimed our right to a seat at the table. We now have the fantastic opportunity and responsibility to work together, bargain together, and envision together as we continue to build upon our democratic union, fight for an excellent contract, and advocate for grad employees on campus.

Today we celebrate. Tomorrow we get back to work – as a RECOGNIZED UNION!