Support for International Students, CARES Act Survey, and More!

Support for International Students   

In the last few weeks, the Trump administration has announced a series of immigration restrictions affecting international academics. These include revoking the visas of many Chinese graduate and postdoctoral workers in STEM fields, and suspending the issuance of H1-B visas, which are often given to foreign faculty members, until the end of the year. In response, graduates in the Biological Sciences Division are circulating a letter of support asking the UChicago administration to publicly denounce these policies—as multiple other universities have done—and to provide tangible support, including town halls and legal representation, for those affected. You can read the full letter here and add your signature here

CARES ACT Survey

Last week in our newsletter, we raised our concerns about how the university is disbursing funds from the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act’s established Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). Specifically, we have been concerned about the accessibility of funds, since the university implemented an invitation-only process which leaves many graduate students ineligible due to conditions that the university added to the original criteria of the Act.    We are still in the process of assessing the extent to which these funds have been made available to graduate student workers, and how many otherwise eligible students could not apply due to the process and the conditions that the university designed. To help us in our assessment, please take a minute to fill out our short questionnaire!

Things That Make You Go 🤔

Last week, Humanities Dean Anne Robertson sent an email to the division, urging recipients to “reclaim our academic and cultural life” in the wake of recent events, specifically the outbreak of COVID-19 and uprisings in response to the murder of George Floyd. For many members of the community, Dean Robertson’s email, which eschewed the word “murder” when describing Floyd’s killing and referred to the philosopher Boethius’s thesis that happiness comes from within, came across as tone deaf, to say the least. A member in the music department replied, and shared her email exchange, and its effects in her department, with us:

“I wrote back to address three points: the insensitivity of language surrounding the murders of Black folks due to state-sanctioned policing, the unclear state of the university moving forward during the COVID pandemic, and the lack of engagement with the critical texts of Black radical feminists and disregard for the political oppression of peoples in our own time and space. The letter provoked self-reflection in the department with regards to the power dynamics we all face as graduate students. Faculty have responded with unease despite the solidarity and collectivity of the graduate students, showing the complicity to power in the unveiling truth. Graduate students in the department are now organizing response letters, mutual aid funds, fundraising infrastructures for Trans- and Non-binary Black led organizations, and above all community. Instead of finding the happiness from within, we are building a collective of support and care “in relation to.'”
Upcoming Events

Happy Hour: Every Friday at 6:00PM GSU is hosting a weekly Happy Hour/Solidarity Hour where you can come hang out and chat with your fellow union members, play some games, and talk with members of other grad unions around the nation! Email us for more information and find the Zoom link on your GSU newsletter!

Vision Committee: Every Tuesday at 6:00PM Open to all members, Vision Committee is our newest committee and is actively working on the shape of the newly independent GSU. This work is incredibly important, and there is something for everyone on any time scale (synchronous and asynchronous work available!). Current projects include revising our constitution, worker organizing (member outreach, mutual aid, political education, direct actions), communications and design, and making GSU a more inclusive environment! Please feel free to reach out and find the Zoom link in your GSU newsletter.

Stewards Council/Organizing Committee: Every  Monday at 6:00PM This is a place where organizers can hear from each other and strategize going forward.  If you are interested in becoming a steward, either email us or find the Zoom link in your GSU newsletter.

FORCe (Funding Overhaul Research Committee): Every Wednesday at 6:00PM We are currently deciding what kind of actions we want to take over the summer and what we want next Fall to look like. To get involved with FORCe please email us or find the Zoom link in your GSU newsletter.

Mutual Aid Committee: Every Thursday at 5:30PM Our Mutual Aid Committee is one of our newest committees, which focuses on building membership and community solidarity through mutual aid. If you are interested in getting more information please email us or find the Zoom link in your GSU newsletter.

Communications Committee: Every Tuesday at 2:00PM The Communications Committee focuses on communicating with our members and the wider public about our organizing work and the issues facing grad workers and other university employees at UChicago and around the country and world. We are responsible for GSU’s social media presence, newsletter, and media representation. To get involved email us or find the Zoom link in your GSU newsletter.

Stay Tuned for Summer GMMs! As we continue to determine how an independent GSU will move forward, we are also planning several summer GMMs to hear more about what members want for and out of GSU. The first one should be happening in a few weeks, so continue to watch this space and our social media for more details! 

Exciting News for Other Grad Unions, CARES Act Funds, and Getting Involved This Summer!

Congratulations to our fellow graduate workers at Harvard and Brown!

Earlier this week, HGSU-UAW, the union of graduate workers at Harvard University, reached the end of a 19-month bargaining process to achieve a tentative agreement on a contract with their administration. They are currently in the process of their ratification vote! Read more at The Harvard Crimson.
This exciting news comes shortly after SUGSE, Brown University’s graduate student union, won their own contract, which they ratified earlier this week!
This is exciting news all around, and a huge congratulations on these two monumental wins for graduate workers everywhere. But the fight is not over, graduate workers across the United States (including at UChicago) work without their rights recognized or protected by their administrations. This is especially unjust, amidst a global pandemic and increasing austerity at most universities. Temporary band-aids are not enough. We need union organization and labor contracts to protect our rights as workers and students. Read this email to figure out how to get involved with GSU’s fight.

CARES Act Funds – and who’s eligible to them? 

On June 4th, the University announced that it accepted $6.2 million it was awarded by the Department of Education, from the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act’s established Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF). This announcement came after much deliberation, since the awarding of the funds to the university on April 9th

Accepting the funds has proven politically controversial for elite higher ed institutions, with many deciding not to accept the federal funds (e.g., Northwestern, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Duke, to name a few), and others, like Cornell University, announcing that they would allocate the entire funding they receive to assist students, and not just 50% as the Act requires. The University of Chicago followed suit with the latter, after almost two months of consideration.

GSU is commending any funding that goes to aid students (eligible students may receive up to $2500), but we are concerned about several aspects of the process, including its invitation-only nature, its non-transparency, and the eligibility criteria that the University posed on top of the original criteria stipulated by the CARES Act: According to the university policy, only students with a valid Free Application for Federal Students Aid (FAFSA) on file are eligible to the funds, thus narrowing down the eligible population, especially among graduate students. Moreover, the FAFSA should have been on file as of May 15, although the University announced this policy only on June 4th, meaning that if you hadn’t applied before their announcement, it was already too late! 

GSU is trying to assess the extent to which these funds have been made available to graduate student workers, and how many otherwise eligible students could not apply due to the process and the conditions that the university designed.

Please take a minute of your time and fill in this short questionnaire!

Get Involved! Get (Re)Engaged! 

This is our first newsletter as an independent union (Yay!!!), since our affiliation vote. And we have exciting times ahead! In the next few weeks, we will develop our shared vision for GSU as an independent union. Our members are invited and encouraged to express their voice and take part in this process – in various ways! Stay tuned for an announcement on an upcoming GMM, and other avenues to participate in shaping GSU vision.

In the meantime, members are encouraged and more than welcome to join and attend our ongoing meetings. There are currently four different committees that members can attend and get involved with:

Stewards Council/Organizing Committee – Meets every Monday at 6:00PM.  Stewards are elected by membership to represent their department in the union.  There are currently openings for stewards in almost every department and this meeting is open to all members. This is a place where organizers can hear from each other and strategize going forward.  If you are interested in becoming a steward either email us or find the Zoom link in your GSU newsletter!

Steering Committee – Meets every Tuesday at 6:00PM. Steering committee is also elected by membership and is responsible for the day-to-day responsibilities of the union including grievances, overall strategy, finances, endorsements, etc. We currently have vacant positions for divisional representatives in PSD, BSD, SSA, and the Divinity School. We also have openings for communications secretary and financial secretary. If any of these positions sound interesting, feel free to email us, or find the Zoom link in your GSU newsletter.

FORCe (Funding Overhaul Research Committee) – Meets every Wednesday at 6:00PM.  FORCe was formed in response to the funding overhaul announced earlier this year and has since been the driving force behind actions in our union. In FORCe’s short lifespan we have already organized three successful actions:

Funding overhaul petition
COVID-19 petition
June 3rd’s walkout/teach-in

We are currently deciding what kind of actions we want to take over the summer and what we want next Fall to look like. To get involved with FORCe please email us, or find the Zoom link on the GSU newsletter.

Mutual Aid Committee – Meets every Thursday at 5:30PM.  Our mutual aid committee is our newest committee which focuses on building membership and community solidarity through mutual aid. During our June 3rd action, members of the mutual aid committee bought and collected food to bring to local food pantries. We are compiling information on how to get involved in the community, protests to attend, how to attend protests safely, and more resources for GSU members to more easily get involved with the Chicago and South Side community. We have worked with the University of Chicago Labor Council (UCLC) to provide protest health and safety training which can be found on their Twitter here.  If you are interested in getting more information please email us or find the Zoom link on the GSU newsletter.

GMM Next Week, COVID Petition Updates, Zoom Backgrounds, and More!

COVID-19: Petition Delivery, Member Testimonial, and New Zoom Backgrounds

Since the beginning of the quarter, we’ve been circulating a petition with a list COVID-19-related demands for the University. Along with signing, members have been sharing their stories of how the outbreak and the University’s lack of response have impacted them. A few weeks ago, we heard from a member whose research in Rome has been indefinitely interrupted. But even for those of us who haven’t been cut off from access to our research sites, the changes in daily life brought about by lockdown have had drastic effects on our ability to work, as a member in the Divinity School who is also a parent attests:

My partner and I have two children. One is six years old and currently doing schoolwork from home. The other is three (enough said for people in the know). My partner works for the public school system and is adjusting to working from home. I teach online. Though we are incredibly fortunate in a number of ways, the changes in rhythm brought about by this virus—coupled with a number of other priorities/values, such as preparing healthy meals, getting some exercise every now and then, not sitting our kids in front of the TV for hours on end (especially given that the 6yo’s homework is on the computer), having some time at the end of every day for relaxation when the kids are in bed, getting enough sleep, etc.—have caused my dissertation research and writing to take a back seat. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still working whenever I can. It’s that the “whenever I can” has shrunk quite a bit, so things are going slowly.

Tomorrow, Friday, May 15, we will be (electronically) delivering our petition to the admin. While the petition will remain active online after tomorrow, we want to have as many signatures as possible before we deliver it—so if you haven’t yet, take a look and add your name today! If you’ve signed, take a moment to urge your friends and colleagues to do so.

We’ve also created two GSU-themed Zoom backgrounds, and we’re asking members to start using them on Friday, to coincide with the delivery of our petition. You can download the image files here.

GMM Next Wednesday

Last quarter we announced that the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) would be changing the structure of their support for us beginning July 1, and we formed several committees to research our options going forward. Next Wednesday, May 20, we will be holding a special GMM to discuss a referendum on the future of our affiliation with AFT. Please join us for this important meeting—we want all our members to have a voice in what our union looks like moving forward!

For Zoom info, check the latest GSU email newsletter. Otherwise, contact your Departmental Organizer or email us at gsu@riseup.net

Georgetown Contract

Enormous congratulations are in order for our graduate worker colleagues at Georgetown University, who ratified their first union contract with university administration last week! The over 1,000 workers in the Georgetown Alliance of Graduate Employees (GAGE) won average annual stipend and cost-of-living increases of $5,000, guaranteed six weeks of paid medical leave for all Ph.D. workers, an emergency assistance fund for graduate workers, dental coverage under their insurance plan, and the establishment of a joint committee to deal with sexual harassment claims outside of Title IX.

Their hard-won success after a year and a half of bargaining is an inspiration for graduate workers everywhere fighting for better conditions in our workplaces.

More Payroll Errors

At the beginning of this quarter, multiple members reported problems that they were experiencing with payroll. Some experienced miscategorization of their payments, resulting in significantly higher tax withholdings, while others had missing paychecks altogether. Unfortunately, we’ve recently heard from members that such errors have been an ongoing issue over the past several weeks.

Almost a year ago, then-Provost Diermeier claimed that the administration was proactively addressing issues of late and inaccurate pay. But it’s evident that these egregious errors continue to happen. With a union contract, we could file grievances over pay errors. Maybe then they’d prioritize paying graduate workers on time and accurately.

Please check your expected payments closely for accuracy, and be sure to be in touch with your steward or DO or contact us at gsu@riseup.net if you find a problem.

Upcoming Events: Happy Hour and Mutual Aid Open House

GSU Happy Hour

Looking to connect and relax with your union colleagues while social distancing? We’ll be hosting weekly virtual happy hours every Friday at 6pm for the foreseeable future. There will be a series of break out rooms where you can chat with other members or play games such as Drawful or Quiplash. Join us!

For Zoom info, check the latest GSU email newsletter. Otherwise, contact your Departmental Organizer or email us at gsu@riseup.net

Mutual Aid Open House

In this moment of crisis, precarity, overwork, and deep, deep uncertainty, it is crucial to build practices of solidarity and care in our community. The GSU Mutual Aid Committee is hosting another Zoom Open House next Thursday, May 21, at 5:30pm. At this event, members of the committee will briefly introduce the history and basics of mutual aid, present on what they believe are the immediate needs of GSU members (gleaned from our last two member surveys and their experiences) and will facilitate break-out groups to start coordinating mutual aid actions. These actions can include peer mental health support, Covid support-check-ins, grocery deliveries, childcare support, peer support and peer mentoring, food delivery and food solidarity actions, mutual aid relief funds, and many, many more.

If you have felt alone and would like some support, please attend and tell us about what you need and we will do what we can to get it to you. You are not alone. If you have felt restless and have been looking for concrete ways to get involved in helping others in our community, please attend and join us!

Join us on the call next Thursday (look for the Zoom details in next week’s newsletter), and write to us at gsu@riseup.net to find out more and get involved!

Mutual Aid Open House TONIGHT, New Interim Co-President of Grievances, and More!

Mutual Aid Open House

The GSU Mutual Aid Committee’s Zoom Open House is today, May 7th, at 5:30pm. At this event, members of the committee will briefly introduce the history and basics of mutual aid, present on what they believe are the immediate needs of GSU members (gleaned from our last two member surveys and their experiences) and will facilitate break-out groups to start coordinating mutual aid actions. These actions can include peer mental health support, Covid support-check-ins, grocery deliveries, childcare support, peer support and peer mentoring, food delivery and food solidarity actions, mutual aid relief funds, and many, many more.

In this moment of crisis, precarity, overwork, and deep, deep uncertainty, it is crucial to build practices of solidarity and care in our community. If you have felt alone and would like some support, please attend and tell us about what you need and we will do what we can to get it to you. If you have felt restless and have been looking for concrete ways to get involved in helping others in our community, please attend and join us!

Join us on the call tonight, and write to us at gsu@riseup.net to find out more and get involved!

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New Interim Co-President for Grievances

We’re pleased to announce that the steering committee has appointed an interim President for Grievances, Kit Ginzky from SSA! Many thanks to Kit for taking on this critical position in our union leadership. There are still some officer positions that need to be filled after our recent election—please write to gsu@riseup.net if you’d be interested in serving as Communications Secretary, Biological Sciences Division (BSD) Representative, Physical Sciences Division (PSD) Representative, or Divinity School Representative.

Provost’s Email about Reopening Research

Earlier this week, Provost Ka Yee Lee emailed the University community to discuss the resumption of research on campus, despite the extension of the governor’s stay-at-home order until May 30. The Provost has convened a faculty committee to guide the reopening of on-campus research, which should begin happening by mid-May.

Though the email emphasizes that this reopening is meant to be done by implementing safety protocols, we know from experience and our bargaining survey that the potential for safety violations is significant, and that graduate workers have limited recourse when exposed to unsafe working conditions. If you’re a graduate worker involved in on-campus research, you may be asked to return to campus in the coming weeks. Please contact us at gsu@riseup.net if you have concerns about this process, encounter any disregard for your safety, or would like to make your experience heard.

Things That Make You Go 🤔

By now, many of us have probably seen UChicago Professor of Sociology Kimberly Hoang’s op-ed in the Maroon, “Preparing for the Academic Job Market in an Economic Recession.” While it doesn’t explicitly mention unions, the piece uses the same rhetoric that we often find in more blatantly anti-union communications from the admin. After suggesting that grad students think about shifting their research to COVID-related topics and reminding us—especially, for some reason, those of us from working-class backgrounds—that rejection is common in academia, Prof. Hoang ends by urging that we recognize our extraordinary privilege in making more than our colleagues at UIC. We could devote this entire newsletter to pointing out the issues with Prof. Hoang’s advice, but instead we’ll let Dr. Karen Kelsky, author of The Professor Is In book and blog, have that honor.

Funding overhaul petition, COVID-19 relief campaign in the news, and Mutual Aid Open House

Sign the Funding Overhaul Petition Today!

Last year, on May 1, 2019, GSU members joined with nurses, library staff, administrative and custodial workers, and other members of the UChicago Labor Council to stage a march and rally in the quad in honor of International Workers Day. This year, the pandemic and social distancing measures have made such actions impossible—but that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to advocate for our rights as grad workers. On Friday, May 1, 2020, we have submitted an online version of our funding overhaul petition to the Provost’s office (Note: you can still sign this petition after 5/1).

GSU in the News!

On campus and nationally, GSU’s organizing is earning media attention. Late last week, the Chicago Maroon reported on our calls for relief during the current crisis, as research is halted, teaching and parenting work increases, and we all deal with the anxiety and stress—and for some of us, grief and loss—of a global pandemic.

That was followed by an article this week in Vox. While focused largely on campaigns for tuition relief (including here at UChicago), this piece also highlighted GSU’s calls for extended funding and deadline flexibility. A GSU representative particularly pointed to the impact on grad workers supporting families, as well as international students facing costs and uncertainty around visas.

Both articles centered on the demands in our Covid-19 relief petition, which you can sign today, and share with colleagues! It’s easy to find at http://bit.ly/GSUcovid.

Mutual Aid Open House

In this moment of crisis, precarity, overwork, and deep, deep uncertainty, it is crucial to build practices of solidarity and care in our community. To this end, the GSU Mutual Aid Committee is hosting a Zoom Open House next Thursday, May 7th, at 5:30pm. At this event, members of the committee will briefly introduce the history and basics of mutual aid, present on what they believe are the immediate needs of GSU members (gleaned from our last two member surveys and their experiences) and will facilitate break-out groups to start coordinating mutual aid actions. These actions can include mental health support, Covid support-check-ins, grocery deliveries, childcare support, peer support and peer mentoring, food delivery and food solidarity actions, mutual aid relief funds, and many, many more.

If you have felt alone and would like some support, please attend and tell us about what you need and we will do what we can to get it to you. You are not alone. If you have felt restless and have been looking for concrete ways to get involved in helping others in our community, please attend and join us!

Join us on the call next Thursday, and write to us at gsu@riseup.net to find out more and get involved!

Zoom Info:
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85217900932

Meeting ID: 852 1790 0932

One tap mobile
+19292056099,,85217900932# US (New York)
+13017158592,,85217900932# US (Germantown)

Dial by your location
+1 929 205 6099 US (New York)
      +1 301 715 8592 US (Germantown)
      +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)
      +1 669 900 6833 US (San Jose)
      +1 253 215 8782 US (Tacoma)
      +1 346 248 7799 US (Houston)

Meeting ID: 852 1790 0932
Find your local number: https://us02web.zoom.us/u/kbbWSgzWyf