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.

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A Message on Faculty – Graduate Employee Relationships by Professor Robert Johnston and Dr. Tom Alter

In a week, University of Chicago graduate employees will vote whether to unionize. Giving more power to grad workers frightens a few faculty members and most administrators, who claim that unions disrupt the harmonious relationship between faculty and their students. Happily, we can attest that graduate student unions do not harm the advisor/advisee relationship.

The two of us, Robert Johnston and Tom Alter, had a positive advisor/advisee relationship throughout Tom’s doctoral studies in History at the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC), which has had a grad union since 2004. Unionism was part of our relationship from the beginning. Tom joined the Graduate Employee Organization as soon as he arrived on campus. By the end of Tom’s first year, he had become a department steward, and he was active in campus organizing and contract negotiations.

Tom’s unionism did not interfere with our pedagogical relationship. Indeed, we’ve never heard of a case where any faculty member or graduate student at UIC expressed any concern about the union harming collegial and mentoring relationships. The same is true for Yale, where Robert taught for nine years. Unionized graduate assistants and faculty continued to collaborate as before.

Of course, some UofC faculty make claims to the contrary. Economics professor Derek Neal worried that with a union “faculty would no longer see their teaching assistants as mentees and future peers.” Dean David Nirenberg fretted that a union would reduce all collaboration to “an economic calculus.” Such dire predictions, crucially, never come with any factual evidentiary support.

Truth to tell, the situation is quite the opposite. Grad unions provide security, respect, and appropriate rules, allowing master’s and doctoral students to flourish. Union work rule are not dictated by national unions but formulated by graduate students themselves, then negotiated with the administration. They simply do not impinge on areas related to mentorship. This finding has been borne out in peer-reviewed research that examined dozens of universities with grad unions.

A union means having a democratic voice at the table when decisions are made affecting your work. It can profoundly improve the working conditions of grads, and it can also bolster the relationship that you have with your advisor or PI. Don’t be afraid to Vote YES!

–Tom Alter, Lecturer in History, Texas State (UIC Ph.D. 2016) and Robert Johnston, Professor of History, University of Illinois at Chicago (Tom’s advisor)

Solidarity with DACA Recipients and All Immigrants Facing State Violence

Graduate Students United stands in solidarity with DACA recipients and all immigrants facing state violence. We reiterate the demands made in our February petition urging the administration to protect immigrant students, while acknowledging that progress has been made on addressing some of these demands. Be sure to follow the University of Chicago Coalition for Immigrant Rights, who are doing crucial work to support and advocate for immigrants in the university community.

We will not stand by while the government targets our members, our students, and our coworkers. It’s time to organize ourselves and fight back.

GSU Stands in Solidarity with University of Puerto Rico Student and Faculty Members on strike

WHEREAS, the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act or PROMESA (H.R.4900, June 30, 2017) is an imperialist federal law enacted by the United States Congress to address the Puerto Rican debt crisis, a financial crisis related to more than $70 billion USD of outstanding debt owed by the government of Puerto Rico to Wall Street bondholders; and

WHEREAS, under PROMESA, a Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico (or “Junta de Control Fiscal (JCF)”) was established to oversee the implementation of neoliberal austerity measures by the Government of Puerto Rico to ultimately guarantee payments to bondholders; and

WHEREAS, on March 9th, 2017 the JCF sent a letter to Governor of Puerto Rico Ricardo Rosselló requesting the government to come up with a plan to reduce annual subsidies to the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), the main public university system and largest higher-education institution in the island, by a minimum of 450 million dollars by the year 2021 as a measure to address the financial crisis; and

WHEREAS, on April 5th, 2017 students and professors of the 11 campuses of the UPR met in National Assemblies with students from the Conservatory of Music of Puerto Rico and the School of Plastic Arts of Puerto Rico and voted in favor of a system-wide strike that started last April 6th to protest the budget cuts proposed by the JCF; and

WHEREAS, on April 11th, 2017 the Hermandad de Empleados Exentos No-Docentes, the main workers’ union in the UPR system, which has supported the student strike from day 1, voted in favor of a strike vote of their own to protest the budget cuts proposed by the JCF ; and

WHEREAS, these actions demonstrate that students, professors and workers from the University of Puerto Rico are devoted to the defense of Puerto Rico’s public higher education and to the access of affordable, high quality educational opportunities to present to future generations of students; and

WHEREAS, proposed budget cuts by the JCF, which represent one-third of the university’s consolidated budget, and other austerity measures, will inevitably obliterate Puerto Rico’s most important higher education public institution; and

WHEREAS, quality affordable public higher education must remain a right and not a privilege, and is a cornerstone for a just and equitable society; be it

RESOLVED, that Graduate Students United at the University of Chicago (AFT/AAUP) stands in solidarity with striking student and faculty members across the University of Puerto Rico system as they fight against austerity measures that threaten access to public and high-quality higher education in the island.

We Stand Together with the Students, Faculty, and Staff of Central European University (Budapest, Hungary)

Graduate Students United at the University of Chicago (AFT/AAUP) stand in solidarity with the staff, students, and faculty of Central European University (CEU) in Budapest, Hungary, against efforts by the Fidesz government to close the university.

One of foremost universities in Hungary and central and east Europe, CEU is at significant risk of forced closure by the Hungarian government, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. PM Orbán’s campaign poses a significant threat to academic freedom, freedom of association, and all forms of opposition to the ruling Fidesz government. The Hungarian government has proposed, and as of 10 April 2017, signed into law amendments to the National Higher Education Law (Act CCIV of 2011) that would make it impossible for Central European University to continue operations in Hungary, jeopardizing the economic and academic livelihoods of over one thousand CEU graduate students as well as hundreds of staff and faculty.  These amendments endanger the independence necessary for CEU’s continued operation in Budapest, and further threaten national institutions of higher learning throughout Hungary.

While the Orbán government has stated that these amendments affect all international universities in Hungary, debate within Parliament on 4 April 2017 made it abundantly clear that the staff, students, and faculty of CEU are its primary targets, especially those students and faculty working in the Department of Gender Studies. And despite protests across Hungary drawing over 70 000 demonstrators in support of CEU, the Hungarian government has stated that these protests have failed to draw a “critical mass” and have ignored their demands.

In its 25 years of operation, CEU has established itself as a university with a global reputation for excellence in teaching and research in the social sciences and humanities and acts as an important part of the academic life of Hungary on the whole. Its student body comes from 117 countries and its faculty from 40. CEU is accredited by the US Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), and its masters and doctoral programs are registered by the New York State Education Department (NYSED). Its programs are accredited and certified by the appropriate Hungarian authorities.

In the past three weeks, tens of thousands of statements of support for the staff, students, and faculty of CEU have shown and will continue to show the Hungarian government that these attacks will not go unnoticed. They remain our best way to pressure PM Orbán to withdraw these amendments and participate in a direct dialogue with the university. Therefore, we, the members of Graduate Students United at the University of Chicago (AFT/AAUP) would like to clearly state our solidarity with our colleagues at CEU.