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

We won - GSU announcement

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!

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)