A Reflection on the Recent UIC Grad Student Strike

By Abi Carlson and Alex Fashandi

On March 19, more than 1,500 University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) graduate and teaching assistants walked out of their classes in retaliation to the board failing to meet their requests for increased salaries, healthcare coverage, and decrease in administration fees.

The results of the strike — which was settled April 5 — put a halt to hundreds of UIC classes for three weeks as professors were unable to teach without the help of their TA’s. This left students uncertain about what the strike meant for their future in the class.

After 31 bargaining sessions since March 2018, including nine while the GEO was on strike, the UIC administration and the GEO reached an agreement;  is an $815 retroactive raise that graduate employees will see as early as their May paychecks, an overall increase of $2,550 over the next three years, a 50% reduction of the international student fee, and a reduction in healthcare fees from $295/month to $240/month for this year.

Following the successful end of the GEO strike, UIC administration faced the possibility of another walkout, this time from its professors. After a year of unsuccessful contract negotiations, UIC faculty was set to take over their TA’s picket line spot on April 23. The fear of another strike prompted the administration to act quickly and grant its faculty an increase in their salaries, as well as greater job protections for non-tenure track faculty.

“I am particularly excited about new policy protections for our Non-Tenure System faculty, who are integral to the teaching, research and service at UIC. This contract represents significant wins in an ongoing fight for the resources needed to fulfill UIC’s mission,” said Janet Smith, UICUF president.

Timeline of the Bargaining sessions between the GEO and UIC administration

What do unions like the GEO do for union workers?

Put simply, labor organizations, colloquially known as unions, are responsible for representing the appropriate bargaining unit. When we say bargaining unit, we mean the group of union workers who share the same common investment (i.e. wage, hours, benefits, etc.)

According to Professor of Labor Law Martin H. Malin of the Chicago-Kent School of Law, “the reason these employees need union representation is that individual employees do not have much bargaining power, but a collective of employees does.”

In addition to representation, labor organizations also serve as the enforcers of collective bargaining agreements. This means any deals made between employers and their workforce are carried out under the oversight of the union.

Why couldn’t an agreement be made between the GEO and UIC administration without the need for a strike?

“It comes down to what’s going to motivate the two parties to reach an agreement,” says Malin. Essentially, a strike or even just the threat of a strike is an economic weapon wielded by unions to increase bargaining power. Without this weapon, employers don’t have much of an incentive to reach an agreement because they are not the ones who are unsatisfied with their current work environment.

In the case of our GEO strike, UIC administrators had no issue with the current graduate/teaching assistant contracts. It’s actually beneficial for them to remain in contract negotiations rather than settle the bargaining agreement because while the bargaining takes place, the contracts stay the same. In the case of UIC, the administrators kept the GEO in negotiations for over a year.

When something like this happens and the process of bargaining breaks down, unions are left no choice but to brandish their most invaluable economic weapon – the strike.

Why didn’t the GEO have a contract with good wages and no fees, to begin with?

The reason is that the GEO falls under the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act (IELRA). This law is what makes it legal for employees to form labor organizations and engage in bargaining as a collective.

But, the statute doesn’t say anything about minimum wages or things of that nature.

As Malin puts it, “the IELRA is only concerned with giving employees the power to bargain for better wages and hours through the use of union representation rather than laying down a basis for employee needs. In short, when the law was made, congressional thought was that employers should set the groundwork and labor organizations should bargain after standards were established.”

How typical are strikes?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 20 major work stoppages in 2018, which is the highest IN THE U.S. since 2007 (21). EIGHT OF THE 2018 strikes related directly towards the educational services industry.

The total number of represented employees involved in strikes in 2018 was over 485,000 which is the highest number of workers since 1986 (over 533,000 workers).

It’s important to note that strikes occur more frequently when employment rates are high.  It’s also important to note that while data is collected on work stoppages, there is no data relating to notices of intent to strike. This means that there may be unreported incidents of labor organizations using the power of strikes to reach bargaining agreements without having to go on strike.

Cassandra Smith a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Art History and a participant of the TA and GEO strike, stated the strikers put their health, income and personal life on the line for nearly a month to ensure that they received the treatment they felt they deserved from the administration.

“I ended up sustaining a foot injury from being on the picket line, a number of people had injuries to their feet, wrists, hands,” said Smith.

What prompted the strike?

After a year of unsuccessful bargaining of contracts with the UIC administration, the graduate students had finally had enough and put down their pens and grade books and picked up picket signs until the administration was willing to make them a fair contract that included salary increases and fee reductions.

“We haven’t had a contract since last March and admin was not willing to come anywhere close to the terms that we were seeking,” Smith said. “They were offering us an 11% over the span of 5 years, so that’s nowhere keeping up with the actual rate in inflation, let alone an actual increase.”

Prior to the strike, graduate employees were being paid $18,000 a year and received free tuition in return for 20-hour work weeks for two semesters. However, according to Smith none of this was the true reality. “Salary before fees is roughly $18,000, but on my W-2 last year, it stated that I made just over $17,000 before taxes, campus care fees, and student care fees.”

During the strike, GEO was asking to receive a notable salary raise of 22.6 percent over the next three years, ensuring that graduate students, especially international would have the income affording them to pay rent, buy groceries, and not have to stress about making $18,000 last a full year. Along with the 22.6 percent increase in salary, GEO was also seeking a decrease in general fees that are expected to rise an additional $50 per semester, making them $962 for the next hi of the academic year.

What is a typical work week like for graduate students?

According to the UIC contract, a 20-hour work week is required in order for graduate students to receive their benefits and salary, however, Smith and UIC Professor Laurie Schaffner will be the first to note that a graduate’s workload often exceeds the 20-hour requirement leaving little to no time for the students to get their personal work done.

“Working as a teaching assistant, what that has meant for me is that during most semesters I teach a Monday, Wednesday, Friday class of about 35-75 per class. I have been responsible for the syllabus development, doing all the research, pulling together all the materials, and of course, doing all of the gradings as well. There are definitely some weeks where students are turning in research papers, or doing midterms and finals where the work that I do far surpasses the 20 hours per week,” said Smith.

UIC Professor Laurie Schaffner attested to the importance of her teaching assistant’s and their contribution to the classroom.

“They are responsible for doing all the grading, meeting with students, helping them figure out the main points of lectures, so I can’t teach a class of 120 students without them,”  she said.

The inability to teach a class without the assistance to their TA’s left many teachers scrambling for solutions, that ultimately ended up with a huge chunk of classes being canceled during the duration of the strike. In return, this left many students fearful about what this meant for their status in the class and what they were to do if the strike lasted through till the end of classes.

Schaffner was one of the many professors who canceled regular times during the strike due to the inability to effectively teach in the absence of TA’s. “It was a really hard decision. I did not want students to miss out on the opportunity to be exposed to the ideas and knowledge I had prepared for them. I got a lot of emails from students expressing their concern, but we aren’t the ones that can stop it, we’re all in this together” said Shaffner.

In the wake of the strike, Smith spent some time reflecting on the efforts put in by every member of the union, as well as reflecting on what this win means for them and how far they still have to go in order to receive the salary and benefits they deem fair.

“I can tell you that we fought we really, really hard for every gain we made. None of it came easy. I feel really good about what we achieved. I know that when we go back in just over two years, we’re going to have to do it all over again,” said Smith.

Ten of Chicago’s Creepiest Places to Visit

While Chicago is best known for its historic landmarks, sports teams, deep dish pizza, and architecture, it also has a dark history. Like many other cities, Chicago has had its fair share of death, tragedy, and odd occurrences, all of which have followed the city as time has progressed. The map below lists just a few of the creepiest places in the city that one can visit at their own caution of course.

List of Chicago sites pinpointed:

St. Valentines Day Massacre site

February 14, 1929  gangster Al Capone ordered a hit on Irish Mobster George Moran, making the day one of the bloodiest in Chicago mob history

H.H. Holmes Murder Castle- Englewood Post Office

Although a post office now, the building once belonged to the first U.S. Serial Killer, H.H. Holmes. What once appeared to be a hotel, was actually a maze where Holmes would trap and kill its inhabitants. To this day, it is still unknown just how many people Holmes killed in his hotel.

Congress Plaza Hotel

The Congress Hotel has the prestigious award of being 2017s most haunted place in Illinois by Travel & Leisure. From sightings of a little boy on the 12th floor to the paranormal activity in room 441, the Congress hotel has surely earned its award

Ressurection Cemetery

Going as far back as the 1930s, there have been several claims of people encountering a blonde woman near the cemetery who mysteriously vanishes.

Chicago Water Tower

One of the few building to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, legend has it that a worker stayed behind to man the pumps and then retreated to the upper floor to hang himself to avoid being burned to death. Claims have been made that you can see a silhouette of a hanging man in the top tower windows.

Drake Hotel

It appears that the Congress Hotel isn’t the only haunted hotel in the Chicago area. The Drake hotel has its fair share of ghost stories such as the woman in red who jumped to her death from the 10th floor after discovering her husband with another woman

Couch Tomb

Tombs are creepy in their own right, but what’s even creepier is the mystery behind Ira Couch’s tomb. According to family records, Ira’s official place of rest is on his families plot, so who is really buried in the Couch tomb?

James M. Nederlander Theatre

On the night of December 30th, 1903, over 2,000 patrons of the theatre were trapped during a horrific fire that killed 602 people. Faint cries, apparitions, and feelings of being touched are all reports made by patrons of the theatre.

Tonic Room

The Tonic room is no stranger to ghost stories as well as strange occurrences. Before the doors opened, the owners of the bar discovered a pentagram on the basement floor and Egyptian iconography on the ceiling. There have also been claims that a woman was murdered there in the 1930s.

The Red Lion Pub

Another award-winning location in Illinois, The Red Lion is deemed the most haunted bar in Chicago. The bar is home to a bearded man, a mentally challenged girl named Sharon, a cowboy, and a woman dressed in 1920 attire. Guests and staff report strange activity from plates flying out of their hands to being locked in the bathroom stalls

21 Savage Deportation Tops ICE in Google Search

On February 3rd, 2019 rapper 21 Savage was reportedly detained by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for having an expired visa.

In fact, this time last year ICE executed their first wave of illegal immigrants leading to the detentions of over 600 “aliens,” leaving multiple families and communities distraught and on edge. Like 21 savage, ICE targeted undocumented immigrants who were facing criminal charges and could not provide the appropriate documentation or changes from former President Barrack Obama’s administration charges.

While both cases of deportation share the same level of injustice in many people’s eyes, it is 21 savage who leads in the number of web searches against ICE according to the data analyzed on Google Trend’s tool. Since the beginning of last year, ICE has made several more rounds of detaining those deemed as illegal, but it is 21 Savage whose amount of times being searched has continued to increase, especially in the wake of recent events.

Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez Dominates Tomi Lahren in Google Search

Two prominent opposing voices on the political hemisphere have both made headlines over the past year. Tomi Lahren for her continued, at times controversial criticism of the Democratic party and Alexandria- Ocasio Cortez for her progressive policy suggestions as well as being the youngest women to ever be elected into Congress.

While both ladies have had their fair share of the spotlight, it is Cortez who has and continues to dominate Lahren in the searches according to the data analyzed on Google Trends.

Lahren’s popularity in searches has shown a steady decline since May and has only just started to increase in recent months. The amount of Google searches for Cortez, on the other hand, has only increasingly inclined since June of last year when she defeated the fourth-ranking House Democrat during the primaries. Her popularity continued to grow when she and 126 other women made history as being a part of the largest group of women to be elected into Congress.

Practice Story

Gov. Pat Quinn talks about MAP grants at DePaul University. (Photo by Josclynn Brandon)

By Bob Smith

Gov. Pat Quinn visited DePaul University’s Loop campus on Wednesday to discuss how pension reform is harming the Monetary Award Program (MAP) college scholarships and access to higher education in Illinois.

“This is so important to our state, not only in the past but certainly now and in the future,” Quinn said.
“We want everyone to have the opportunity to go to college that has the ability to go to college.

MAP grants are need-based college scholarships that allow merit students who are in need across the state and do not need to be repaid by the student. Quinn said that due to cutbacks and having to pay more money in the pension amount, almost 18,000 students lost their MAP grant scholarships this year.

“We do not want anyone denied that opportunity because of finances,” Quinn said. “We can’t afford to lose all the talent that exists, all the ability that exists for higher education to help our economy and to help all of us, because there are financial challenges that deny someone the opportunity to go to community college or a four-year university — public and private — in our state.”

Quinn was joined by several Illinois college students, including DePaul Student Government Association Vice President Casey Clemmons.

“Every year over 5,000 DePaul students receive MAP grants, and just like the students who have already spoken here today, all of these DePaul students rely on this funding in order to continue their college careers,” Clemmons said.

Because the number of Illinois students eligible to receive MAP is currently increasing, existing funding does not allow the state to assist all the eligible students. As a result, without action by the Illinois state leadership, more DePaul students than ever will see their MAP funding disappear this year and more

DePaul students than ever will be forced to give up their education due to finances.”

More than 150,000 students nationally receive MAP grants each year.

Clemmons told the audience that on Tuesday, DePaul’s SGA unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Illinois general assembly and the governor to ensure the longevity of the MAP program.  He read the resolution aloud and presented a copy to Quinn.

Ken Thomas, a University of Illinois Board of Trustees student member, MAP recipient and University of Illinois Chicago student, told how he wouldn’t be where he is today if it wasn’t for the MAP grant.

“My mom, when I was in high school, had to work two jobs just to keep food on the table,” Thomas said, “and if we didn’t have [the] MAP program like we do today, I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today; graduating with a degree, hoping to be a productive member of society.”

Having a productive and functioning society and economy is what Quinn says it’s all about.

“Jobs follow brainpower,” he said. “We want to make sure we have smart people in Illinois. Well skilled, well-educated students coming out of college with graduate degrees and diplomas so they can create jobs, create new businesses,” he said. “Our goal in Illinois is to have at least 60 percent of the adults in our state with a college degree or college associate degree or career certificate by the year 2025. In order to achieve we have to make sure we have a good scholarship program.”

Clemmons said that in order for that to happen, state legislatures need to reflect upon the question, “What must be done?” and do what’s required.