Resolution in Solidarity with the Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties on Strike

Resolution in Solidarity with the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties on Strike

[Passed at the Fall Members’ Meeting, 20th October, 2016]

WHEREAS, the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF-AFT), which represents faculty and coaches at Pennsylvania’s fourteen state-owned universities, has been on strike since Wednesday, October 19 after working without a contract for more than 450 days; and

WHEREAS, the state system has not bargained seriously with the faculty, neglected for four months to meet with the faculty bargaining committee, and has turned down binding arbitration in favor of a non-binding “fact-finding” which would delay negotiations at the expense of faculty and students; and

WHEREAS, APSCUF is fighting for to defend the quality of Pennsylvania’s public higher education system and is deeply committed to the needs of their students; and

WHEREAS, the state’s contract proposals would undermine academic job security at the expense of both faculty and students; and

WHEREAS, the state is proposing salary cuts that would amount to a 20% pay cut for the lowest paid faculty even while administrators took substantial salary increases; and

WHEREAS, the state proposal would  cut healthcare benefits while also increasing out of pocket costs for healthcare; and

WHEREAS, this strike takes place in the context of the casualization of the academic workforce which undermines quality of life for academic workers and the quality of education provided to our students, and which turns the university campus into a factory rather than an institution of education; and

WHEREAS, quality public higher education must remain a cornerstone of our society if we are to ensure access and equity in education; be it

RESOLVED, that Graduate Students United at the University of Chicago (AFT/AAUP) stands in solidarity with striking faculty members across the Pennsylvania State College and University system as they fight for a fair contract.

Resolution in Solidarity with Harvard’s Striking Dining Hall Workers

Graduate Students United at the University of Chicago stands in solidarity with Harvard’s dining hall workers who have been on strike since October 5, and who have faced abuse and intimidation from the University administration. At Harvard, the richest institution of higher education in the world, with a $35 billion endowment and a $62 billion dollar operating surplus, it is unconscionable that half of the dining hall workers earn less than $35,000 per year.

As university workers who ourselves are underpaid, we recognize the difficulty imposed on workers, particularly those with families, by going for weeks without pay. We also know that this strike is absolutely necessary to win a decent standard of living, and to defend the dignity of workers that university administrators treat with scorn and disrespect.

Passed at the Fall Members’ Meeting, 20th October, 2016; Collected: $111.12

Resolution against the Dakota Access Pipeline

Resolution against the Dakota Access Pipeline and in Favor of a Just Transition to a Clean Energy Future
[Passed at the Fall Members’ Meeting, 20th October, 2016]

WHEREAS, the $3.78 Billion, 1,172-mile Dakota Access Pipeline would carry over half a million barrels of dirty crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, through South Dakota and Iowa to Illinois to connect to other pipelines bringing oil to the East Coast and the Gulf; and

WHEREAS, the pipeline is slated to pass through the tribal lands of Standing Rock Sioux near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, and underneath the Missouri River, the main source of water for the tribe, explicitly against the tribe’s stated wishes; and

WHEREAS, the pipeline desecrates the ancestral burial grounds of the Standing Rock Sioux; and

WHEREAS, energy development projects constitute a key mechanism by which the sovereignty of Native American tribes is further undermined following centuries of active colonization; and

WHEREAS, millions of workers, including many union members, and their families and communities live in the path of the proposed pipeline; and

WHEREAS, the transport of heavy crude is particularly volatile, leading to 18.4 million gallons of oils and chemicals spilled, leaked, or released into the air, land, and waterways between 2006 and 2014 in North Dakota alone, causing death, contamination of soil and water, and disease of many kinds; and

WHEREAS, scientists have warned that in order to avoid wide-scale, catastrophic climate disruption, the vast majority of known remaining fossil fuel reserves must be left untouched and “in the ground;” and

WHEREAS, Native American water protectors and their supporters have been brutally attacked by private security forces with attack dogs and pepper spray; and

WHEREAS, Native Americans and other activists defending their land and water have the same right to defend their land and engage in protest as workers who are protesting the actions of an unfair employer; and

WHEREAS, the U.S. Congress has repealed the ban on exporting oil, meaning that the oil transported by the pipeline is likely to be sold overseas and not contribute to US energy independence; and

WHEREAS, we know catastrophic climate change presents a far greater threat to the livelihoods of workers; and

WHEREAS, many large corporations, and especially energy corporations, have been putting profits ahead of the common good of workers, the public, and the environment, and these corporations have been granted the unjust constitutional rights and powers of personhood, with the doctrine of money as speech through activist Supreme Court decisions thereby diminishing democracy and the voice and power of the people; and

WHEREAS, numerous national and international unions have already passed resolutions against construction of the pipeline, including National Nurses United, the Amalgamated Transit Union, the Communications Workers of America, the Service Employees International Union, the United Electrical Workers, and others; and

WHEREAS, the actual number of permanent full-time jobs projected to be created by the Dakota Access Pipeline numbers less than twenty; and

WHEREAS, more long term, good paying jobs would be created by investing in sustainable energy infrastructure projects using already existing technologies while at the same time reducing the pollution that creates greenhouse gases; and

WHEREAS, we support the rights of our union brothers and sisters building the pipeline to work in safe environments at jobs that are consistent with respect for the environment and the rights and safety of communities at the front lines of the People’s Climate struggle; therefore be it

RESOLVED, that we of Graduate Students United at the University of Chicago (AFT/AAUP) join in solidarity with Native American water protectors, their allies, and our fellow graduate employee union locals, including:

·      GEU-UAW Local 6950 at the University of Connecticut

·      GSOC-UAW Local 2110 at New York University

·      GEO-UAW Local 2322 at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst

·      University of California Student-Workers Union-UAW Local 2865

·      Academic Student-Employees-UAW Local 4123 at the California State University

·      I.F.T./A.F.T. Local 6300 AFL-CIO at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

We call upon the United States Federal Government to make permanent the moratorium on construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline by revoking permits for construction issued by the Army Corps of Engineers; and be it further

RESOLVED, that GSU-UChicago calls on the labor movement to support a just transition to a renewable energy economy and investment in the construction of a nationwide sustainable energy infrastructure that will address the growing threat of climate change and its consequent droughts, floods, fires, crop failures, species extinctions, and other dire consequences of global climate change, and furthermore urges the AFL-CIO and LiUNA to reverse their condemnable and falsely defended statements in support of the Dakota Access Pipeline; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the GSU-UChicago urges the members of GSU, other graduate employee union locals, the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors, and the rest of the labor movement to join us and other graduate employee union locals in becoming actively involved in promoting a just transition to a sustainable alternative energy economy that protects ecological integrity and respects the rights of all working people to good paying and safe jobs, human rights, and justice for all.

Solidarity Statement: We Stand Together With University of Missouri-Columbia Graduate Employees

Graduate Students United at the University of Chicago stands in solidarity with University of Missouri-Columbia graduate employees who have stated their intention to unionize.

The struggle came on the heels of a battle over healthcare access earlier this year. Citing changes in federal law related to the Affordable Care Act, the university abruptly ended its practice of providing graduate students with stipends to buy health insurance. Although the university knew as of July 21 that the system of subsidies for graduate employees who enrolled in the student insurance plan no longer met legal requirements, affected graduate employees were not notified until August 14, just 13 hours before many graduate employees’ coverage expired. The university announced that all graduate employees would receive a one-time stipend that would cover one semester of health insurance at the rate of the current plan offered to University of Missouri students in order to make up for the short notice.

The university claimed to have the best interests of graduate employees at heart, stating that they had “been working very hard to try and create the best possible alternative for those students to whom we have made a commitment.” However, at no point were graduate employees consulted over what they considered to be the best possible alternative. And at no point, it seems, did the university consider enrolling graduate employees in the employer-sponsored plan available to faculty and other staff and allowed under IRS rules, nor did they consider a permanent increase in graduate employee pay to accommodate for the loss of the subsidy. In addition, other universities, such as Washington University, do provide subsidized health care assistance and have not elected to remove those benefits. Therefore, it is hard to see this move by the University of Missouri as anything except an attempt to use federal law to justify a cut to graduate employee benefits.

In response to the university’s attack, more than 1,200 university workers, including teaching and research assistants, faculty and alumni, organized by the Forum on Graduate Rights, walked out on August 26 with the following demands:

  • the restoration of health insurance subsidies by the spring semester, when the currently allotted funding runs out,
  • the provision of more affordable housing and childcare facilities, and
  • a guarantee that no graduate student will earn below the federal poverty line.

They declined to call off the walkout following a call for dialogue from the university administration, and in the process galvanized graduate workers and spurred a union drive. This is the kind of action that will be necessary if we are to defend our desperately needed benefits that allow us to carry out our day-to-day work that makes our universities run, and if we are to make full use of the professional development which graduate school programs are supposed to provide.

Beyond our general mutual interest as workers in higher education, our struggles are linked together. Earlier this year, we too were informed of changes to our health insurance plan that would increase out-of-pocket costs by 150 percent, at the same time that student fees used to pay health insurance premiums increased as well. With no inclusion of graduate employees in the process, the administration has both increased cost and decreased coverage, and has put the burden to cover the difference onto us. While insurance is still available to us, deductibles of $500 to $1,500 will put needed health care out of reach for many graduate employees, and will especially burden graduate parents. Your struggle inspires us to make similar demands and to organize to improve our standard of living.

Self-organization and collective action remain the best, indeed only, way to defend our basic standard of living, which is already precarious. Therefore, we, the members of Graduate Students United at the University of Chicago (AFT-AAUP) stand in solidarity with graduate workers at the University of Missouri as they form their union.

UChicago Admin and Trustees Off Mission, Unaccountable

A guest post from David Mihalyfy, a GSU member and Ph.D. candidate in the Divinity School:

Because of references I’ve made in my past two Jacobin articles and will make in an upcoming editorial, as well as its relevance to our campus’s sometimes unwelcoming climate and Provost Isaac’s recently announced budget cuts to “control… administrative costs”, I would like to clarify some of the bases on which I have publicly questioned the commitment of UChicago administrators and trustees to core academic and civic values.

As publicized by the Maroon a year-and-a-half ago, a UChicago policy reportedly instructed all uniformed employees to avoid elevators when President Robert Zimmer was in the Administration Building—a policy, furthermore, at the root of an alleged violation of the American with Disabilities and Civil Rights Acts, in which a locksmith who had received two hip replacement surgeries was asked to use four flights of stairs, multiple times if necessary.

As I have stated and will continue to state until any other dependable information emerges, documentation and UChicago’s subsequent response strongly suggest that Zimmer or someone close to him began this policy because of his preference not to share the elevator with a certain class of persons, then used much staff time to maintain and cover up this policy in the face of a series of extended and growing challenges to it.

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The Institution is the Problem: Graduate Students Respond to Racism on Campus

The recent post on a student’s Facebook page the week of November 17 frightened and disgusted graduate students across campus. We were horrified by the acts of overt racism and worried about the risk that such threats posed to students. But we want to clarify to the administration that the problem of racism on campus is institutional, not incidental. This event reminded us of the many other acts of discrimination and intolerance that have taken place on campus and in the South Side again and again:

As graduate students who study and work at this university, we stand in solidarity with the students and faculty who have publicly demanded that the university work to change the climate of hostility created as a result of acts of violence, intolerance and exclusion. Administrative equivocation and delay are inexcusable. This is not an isolated act, and it should not be treated as such.

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Trauma Care Statement

On Monday 19th May, a group of protestors associated with the Trauma Care Coalition [1], including two members of Graduate Students United, chained themselves to the construction site of the new University of Chicago Medical Center Emergency Room. The action was meant to highlight that all was not business as usual. Seven protesters were forcefully dragged off the site, though no arrests were made. One was taken to the ER for injuries sustained during removal by police [2]. The police aggression they faced [3] only made dramatically explicit, once again [4], the administration’s lack of willingness to engage the views of community groups and student organizations in deciding its priorities.

As Graduate Students United itself attempts to organize for a process of collective bargaining – demanding that university administration recognize the union and negotiate over wages, benefits and working conditions – we call upon administration to participate in meaningful conversations with students and community members associated with the Trauma Care Coalition. They have been highlighting a matter of serious concern. We firmly oppose this practice of sending the police to do the talking. We are also aware that some of those involved in the protests have received emails from administration, and we call on them to refrain from taking any “disciplinary measures.”

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Solidarity with United Faculty

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.

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