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UIC Graduate Employees Vote to Authorize Strike

By Joe Iosbaker |
February 17, 2010
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Jes Cook speaks at rally outside Board of Trustees meeting in January
Jes Cook speaks at rally outside Board of Trustees meeting in January (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Chicago, IL - University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) graduate employees voted overwhelmingly Feb. 15 to authorize a strike. The contract for the 1400 graduate and teaching assistants at UIC expired in August. The GEO has been in negotiations since April of 2009, but management’s attitude at the table has been “all about delay, delay, delay…” according to a GEO blog site in January. This has been true for the entire length of the bargaining process, and of course, the university has been using the state budget crisis as further excuse for inaction.

A press release announcing the results of the vote quoted GEO president Charles Moss: “Improvements in job security, such as guaranteeing tuition waivers that grads already receive and getting skyrocketing fees under control, won’t cost the university a dime, but would make graduate employees much more secure in their jobs.”

GEO members have seen ‘tuition differentials’ from numerous departments in recent years, including in Liberal Arts, where Dean McBride wants to raise it to $875 a semester. Given that most grads make only $14,000 annually, this would be the equivalent of a 12.5% cut in pay. Management’s offer has no raises in it.

The union is also looking for improvement in Campus Care, the health program they are eligible for. Grads pay $1000 a year for coverage, which is often denied for dental or emergency services.

According to Jes Cook, Organizing Chair of the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO), the vote was “almost unanimous.” The meeting had “…one of the best turnouts for anything the union has done. There were a lot of new faces, and so many departments,” reported Cook.

The vote to give the GEO leadership the authority to file an Intent to Strike notice with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations board won 96% support among the members.

In the words of Charles Moss, who is a pre-calculus teaching assistant, the members are saying, “Treat us fairly. We wanted guarantees of our tuition waivers and to hold the line on fees. When our proposal about that was struck, it really angered a lot of people.”

“A lot of members are confused why we haven’t already been on strike,” Moss continued