UIC Graduate Assistants end strike

Three-week-long protest results in pay increase, reduced health care costs

The Graduate Assistants (GA) and the Administration of The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) have reached an agreement that will end a three week strike that started March 19. UIC classes resumed this past Monday after 30 collective bargaining sessions.

The three-year contract, that was agreed on by both parties, includes a pay raise of 14 percent for workers earning the minimum of $18,065, a reduction of mandatory fees, reduced cost for university provided health care, and a guarantee that GA’s would return to work without being docked pay.

Initially, the union rejected the 11.5 percent raise in minimum pay and countered with a demand for a 24 percent pay raise.

For Xavier students, the strike is an example of rising concerns over the costs of graduate school. “The money is harder to get since there are fewer scholarships available. Plus, I also need to worry about where I’m going to stay and how I’m going to pay for the daily necessities,” said AJ Chaney, a first-year psychology major.

The main complaint of GAs at UIC was that they could not earn a living wage while working for the university. Many of them cite the increase in the cost of living in Chicago and the lack of time to find other employment as reasons for going on strike.

University-specific complaints by the union include extra tuition costs for certain majors, the high cost of international student fees and the low minimum salary. About 50 percent of GA’s earn the minimum salary.

Similar strikes at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UICUC) took place in February 2018. The Graduate assistants at UICUC demanded better salaries and an increase in the amount of tuition waivers students receive. The strike was the first of its kind in nearly a decade. The strikes at UICUC ended successfully with the GAs securing guaranteed tuition waivers and a salary increase.

The strikes appears to be part of a larger trend of GA’s unionizing and going on strike. The trend can be traced back to a 2016 ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that stated graduate assistants fall under the category of employee and thus should be allowed to unionize.

Similar strikes have taken place all across the country, including other schools located in Chicago such as Northwestern and the University of Chicago. Colleges still maintain that GAs are primarily students who are doing research and earning degrees, and thus should not be treated the same as full-time salaried employees.

Xavier students would consider becoming a graduate assistant to help offset the cost of Graduate school. “If it was necessary; yes. I’m really not the type of person who wants to teach others. I hope to be financially secure before I decide to go through with graduate school,” said Manny Gallegos, first-year classics major.

The union strike mostly impacted mathematics, natural sciences and computer science. Estimates put the total amount of classes canceled at 500. The departments of dentistry, pharmacy, public health and nursing were all unaffected; only two business administration classes were canceled.

By: Joseph Cotton | Staff Writer