By Martin Macias, undergraduate student at University of Illinois, Chicago
Last Thursday I joined students at the UIC Forum to sing pro-worker holiday carols while handing out candy canes with petitions attached to them. We did this in an effort to pressure Chancellor Allen-Meares to step in and offer campus workers a fair contract. Workers have been in negotiations for more than 7 months. Our newly formed UIC student organization, USAS (UIC Students Against Sweatshops), is mobilizing students on campus as part of the larger Campus Worker Coalition, which includes unions like SEIU and AFT.
From our professors to those who clean our buildings, UIC workers are fighting for a fair contract and dignity in the workplace. According to a financial audit, completed by Eastern Michigan University professor Howard Bunsis, campus workers are struggling just to maintain their basic benefit standards.
I have spoken to workers who are having to pick up second and third jobs to make ends meet. Many are seeing their health insurance get more expensive, while they struggle to save their homes from foreclosure.
Professors have not seen a real raise in over 6 years, and graduate students who teach close to 40% of undergraduate classes may lose their tuition waivers. The administration says that we have no money, and cannot afford more for our workers, and yet the school raised $2.4 billion as of 2011 and tuition at UIC has increased 62 percent since 2004. The Chancellor alone makes over $400,000 a year and has lived rent-free in a university-owned building since 2009.
After the Forum we delivered a letter signed by 10 UIC student organizations asking Chancellor Allen-Meares to celebrate the 30th anniversary of UIC by using her authority to ensure campus workers receive a fair contract. We have set a deadline of December 12th for her response.
United Students Against Sweatshops is part of a national student-run organization with over 150 chapters across the country. Those chapters run campaigns in support of workers on campuses and in the sweatshops that produce collegiate apparel, mobilizing our peers in support of workers at UIC who are negotiating for a fair contract and a better education system for all students.