After Strike Threat, Illinois Grad Student Workers Win Strong Contract

By Rigoberto Campos, undergraduate student at UIUC

Today at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign USAS members are celebrating alongside the Graduate Employees’ Organization (AFT/IFT #6300), who have just ratified their contract with a 95% vote of approval. After an 87% strike authorization vote and seven months of stalling by the administration, GEO members won protection of their tuition waivers, wage increases, and better health insurance for the next 5 years!

Since last April, the Graduate Employees’ Organization has been bargaining with the University of Illinois administration in hopes of negotiating a fair contract. The administration has been toying around with our graduate students by threatening to take away their health care and tuition waivers that they depend on to get by. As a student at UIUC, I know that tuition isn’t cheap, and many of our graduate students wouldn’t be able to stay in school without their tuition waivers.

This is a huge victory for us because it really gives USAS members here at the University of Illinois hope that together we can make real change on our campus. This triumph means a lot to us because we have been organizing to support our campus workers since the beginning of the year. This semester we started out tabling and passing out flyers to spread awareness, and then held a letter delegation to Chancellor Wise to voice our support for our campus workers. In October, we held a “Worker Speak-Out”, where students got to hear directly from workers in the GEO and SEIU about their experiences working at the university. In November, we mobilized students to deliver Thanksgiving Day Cards to Chancellor Wise to express how thankful we are for our teaching assistants, and asking Chancellor Wise to bargain in good faith. Just last week, we attended the GEO’s “study-in” at the Union, and stayed past closing time as an act of civil disobedience.

We are extremely cheerful that the administration has agreed to stop threatening the livelihood of our graduate students. USAS was glad to have had support from undergraduates and MEChA throughout the campaign. We know that this isn’t just a victory for our grad students, but is a victory for undergraduate students who depend on our TAs.

Nevertheless, this does not mean that this battle is over. Right now, service workers represented by SEIU are in contract negotiations, and next semester we will campaign to support their fight. Food service workers at UIUC are laid off four times a year, and do not receive unemployment benefits. The administration is currently trying to take away multiple holidays for some workers, including Christmas Day and Thanksgiving Day. We believe our workers deserve fair wages and respect, and will stand with them until they win a fair contract!

When we fight, we win!