CHICAGO -- The Graduate Employees Organization at the University of Illinois at Chicago held a rally titled "Don't Make Us Strike" Mar. 13 to protest what they say is the stalling of their negotiations for a contract by the university administration.
Workers are insulted that the best the university has come up with so far is an offer of a $70-per-year raise that would bring annual salary to only $14,500. These days, with the cost of living in Chicago, it's not nearly enough to live on, graduate workers say.
Even that tiny offer didn't come, they note, until after many meetings held every two weeks over an extended period of time. The negotiations began last May and hit a glitch last December.
Disgusted with the lack of any progress in talks that began in spring and continued through a summer, fall and into the winter, the GEO finally called last December for a third party mediator to come in and help with negotiations.
Since then they say the administration has been stalling negotiations by cancelling meetings or by showing up to meetings and saying they were unprepared to discuss issues.
The rally yesterday, attended by workers chanting, "Get up, get down - Chicago is a union town," was spurred by the most recent cancellation of a negotiating session by the administration. There were supposed to be talks last Thursday when, in the last minute, the university cancelled yet again.
The graduate workers were far from alone in expressing their anger with the university yesterday.Many on the university community came out to express their solidarity.
Among those backing them were university janitors represented by the Service Employees International Union.
Teachers, represented by the United Faculty union and students were in the crowd cheering on the workers.
The Chicago Teachers Union, which ran an historic strike watched across the country earlier this year, sent an email in support of the workers.
The GEO represents 1,500 graduate students that work as teacher's assistants at the university.
The last time the graduate students won a contract was more than three years ago and that contract didn't come until after a full year of negotiations.
Greg Stuliff, GEO organizer and a member of the bargaining team, called the $70 a year offer "unreasonable."
Marissa Howard, vice president of the GEO said, "This rally is because we want a fair contract and a living wage for our members."
She noted that the graduate students were suffering, in part, because they had tried to be considerate of the university's problems. Three years ago when they were negotiation the last contract, the university stressed repeatedly that it was experiencing financial difficulties and the graduate students, in response, settled for less money than they had originally hoped for.
For some of the graduate workers the outcome of the contract battle could well determine whether they have enough food or even a roof over their heads at night.
Reuben Perez, a member of the GEO who has been at UIC for four years said, "I have to depend on my federal tax return to pay rent for my apartment."
Another meeting has been scheduled for March 20.
Photo: Earchiel Johnson/PW