19 Mar UIC GEO On Strike for a Fair Contract

Grad workers are on strike starting today, and will continue withholding their labor until they win a fair contract. Their full press release is reproduced below. We encourage all faculty and community members to show support in any way they can!


March 18, 2019

  • **12:30pm, Tuesday, 3/19: unified picket on Halsted St. in front of Jane Addams Hull House; GEO leaders available for interview
  • Pickets outside several buildings on UIC’s East Campus from 9:30am-12:30pm and 1:30pm-4pm

TOMORROW: UIC Graduate Workers Begin Indefinite Strike for a Fair Contract

Over 1500 Teaching Assistants and Graduate Assistants at the University of Illinois at Chicago will withhold their labor indefinitely starting tomorrow, March 19, after stalled contract negotiations between the UIC Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) and the university administration. A majority of GEO members voted in mid-February to authorize a strike, with 99.5% of voters approving.

Contract negotiations began over a year ago, on March 1, 2018. TAs and GAs have been working without a contract since September 30. GEO is seeking living wages and fee waivers. The university administration has consistently rejected these proposals. We will be striking over all of these issues, as well as an Unfair Labor Practice.

Despite being highly educated professionals providing skilled labor for a multibillion-dollar institution, UIC grad workers live on the edge of poverty. They make as little as $18,000, even when serving as the primary instructor for courses with as many as 60 undergraduates, and are simultaneously required to pay up to $2,000 in annual university fees.

Grad workers’ low pay, high fees, and often precarious employment negatively impacts their academic progress, professional development, and overall health, which only undermines UIC’s educational and research mission.

“I am the lead instructor for my Sociology course, having essentially the same responsibilities as a professor, yet I am paid the campus minimum wage,” says GEO member Emily Hallgren. “I live in constant financial stress. It affects so many areas of our lives that people don’t see. How can I be at my best physically and mentally for research and teaching when I can’t afford nutritious food? How do I dress professonally for class or conferences when I can’t afford any new or nice clothes? I’ve spent so much of my time trying to find part-time income that fits my academic schedule. It’s incredibly distracting from my own research and teaching and causes a great deal of stress.”

UIC is offering grad workers raises well below what GEO has won in the past, while rejecting calls for fee waivers and transparent appointment policies. At the same time, UIC is flourishing. Enrollments are at record highs, multimillion-dollar construction projects are underway, the campus recently acquired a law school, the university president recently got a $100,000 bonus for the third year in a row, and UIC has announced a $1 billion investment in infrastructure renovations.

“Graduate school is supposed to be challenging, not exploitative,” says GEO co-president Jeff Schuhrke, a TA in the History Department. “We’re fighting against the idea that grad school is some kind of hazing ritual as opposed to real life. We’re adults, often supporting families. We’re professionals, often with years of experience and Master’s degrees. We provide essential labor for UIC. All we’re asking for is some basic financial security so we can live with dignity.”

Nearly half of the employees represented by GEO are international graduate student workers, whose visa status doesn’t allow off-campus jobs and limits access to loans and credit cards. Despite their extra financial hardships, in recent years UIC has begun charging international grad workers additional fees that domestic grads don’t have to pay.

“International graduate workers must be in good academic standing in order to stay in the country,” explains Viktoriya Zvoda, an international student, GEO member, and TA in the Physics Department. “Good academic standing comes hard when you are constantly anxious about your finances. Being able to count only on our assistantship to financially support ourselves and not being able to seek additional help in the form of loans or even credit cards puts an immense stress on international graduate employees. It is crucial that international graduate students receive living wages for our labor and a reduction or elimination of academic fees that currently equal about 12 percent of our income.”

This is the second year in a row that grad workers at a U of I campus are forced to go on strike for a fair contract. Last February, grad workers at the Urbana-Champaign campus were on strike for nearly two weeks before an agreement was reached.

“After an entire year of bargaining, UIC admin has left us no other option but to withhold our labor,” says GEO co-president Anne Kirkner, a TA in the Criminology, Law, and Justice Department. “They have not offered us a single dollar of relief on the thousands of dollars in fees we pay each year, and nothing that even resembles empathy for the hundreds of international graduate workers who pay higher fees simply because of their status as internationals. Like our sister union at Urbana-Champaign last year, we are ready to walk out because graduate workers deserve to be treated with dignity.”

Meanwhile, UIC’s 1200 tenure/tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty—represented by United Faculty—are also in the middle of contentious contract negotiations and have been working without a contract since last fall.

“UIC United Faculty stands in solidarity with the GEO in its fight to win a fair and just contract,” says Janet Smith, United Faculty president and professor of Urban Planning and Policy. “A strike is not something sought by our graduate student employees. Rather, based on years of consistent behavior, it is required in order to get the contract GEO deserves. We are watching closely to see how the administration and UI leadership respond as we now go into mediation on our own contracts. It is our hope that the Board of Trustees and President will lead in changing the anti-union culture in the UI system, so that future contracts can be worked on collaboratively with labor instead of against it.”


The UIC Graduate Employees Organization, Local 6297 of the Illinois Federation of Teachers-American Federation of Teachers, is the member-run union that represents more than 1500 Teaching Assistants and Graduate Assistants at UIC. GEO was officially recognized in 2004 and won its first three-year contract in 2006. GEO ratified its fourth three-year agreement in 2015 that expired in September 2018.

Twitter: @uicgeo

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19 Mar Faculty FAQ on Grad Worker Strike

The following is a supplement to our initial guidance to faculty on how to conduct yourselves during a grad worker strike. This was formulated to answer ongoing questions from faculty, and to respond to an evolving situation with regard to the strike and Administration’s reaction to it. Please email if you have questions beyond what is covered here!

How can I continue to support the GEO while they are on strike?
We urge faculty to do whatever they can to support GEO strikers while also continuing to do their jobs. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Refreshing your knowledge about what is legally not allowed during a strike here.
  • Joining strikers on the picket line when you are not teaching or holding office hours.
  • Delivering your classes without crossing the picket line – if and when possible (see below for strategies some faculty have employed).
  • Showing solidarity if and when you need to cross a picket line to teach, hold office hours or attend a mandatory meeting (e.g., download and print the FACULTY SUPPORT GEO sign attached and carry it with you).
  • Donate to the GEO Strike Fund
  • Continue sending messages to the administration about how much we need our grad student employees – how we cannot function without them and how they deserve a fair contract just like we do. Send to and Board of Trustees (

From our perspective, this work stoppage is management’s problem to solve. Only they can bargain a fair contract, and until that is reached, the “problem” will continue. UIC simply cannot function without grad workers’ labor, and they deserve a contract that reflects this reality.

What are some alternative methods for delivering classes and keeping office hours?
We recognize that it is challenging to find alternative ways to hold in person meetings with students for class and office hours, and in some cases, it is not possible to do so, which is why we suggest if you have to cross a picket line, you do so showing solidarity. In case you would like to consider an alternative, here are some examples of what faculty are doing:

  • Teaching on-line including posting your lecture on Blackboard (or some other source) during the time the class meets and asking for students to comment/ask questions during a fixed period of time. This requires clear communication of what is expected and how it aligns with if not mirrors what was to be covered in person.
  • Providing answers to quizzes on-line after students have completed them – so not grading but letting students be able to check what they missed/got correct – and giving them credit for taking it.
  • Holding student conferences at Student Center East or West or at other off-campus locations (lots of coffee shops are brimming with UIC students and faculty).

If you have other alternatives or good off campus locations to share, please send to

How can we handle grading assignments once the strike is over?
I have heard from several people wanting to know what happens after the strike ends. At this point, our understanding is that the GEO will bargain to be paid for any work that a TA makes up. We will also, through our demand to bargain address this issue. Because this is not yet determined, we cannot say what will happen. What can say is that we all have to remember that whether on strike or after, we do not want or expect faculty to do the work of a striking worker and we do not want a grad worker to do work without compensation.

How do I respond to a request from my superior (head, chair, director, EO) as to how I will help make sure that our undergraduates are being served during the strike?
As we understand it, a request from the provost was sent to deans and, in LAS at least, faculty are being asked to help plan how TA-led courses and TA-assisted courses will be taught in the absence of the TA. Further, the administration wants information about these plans by Saturday (3/30). It is our opinion that such a request is  subject to demand to bargain by the Union, and we have accordingly amended our original demand issued to the UI Labor Relations 3/19/19. Our reasoning is that the mere act of asking what needs to be done assumes faculty know what is not getting done and implicitly by whom, which puts faculty in a situation that would violate labor law in order to provide an answer. Also, it represents a change in our working conditions. Both are subjects of bargaining as requested by UICUF on 3/29/19.

Such a request is also likely an Unfair Labor Practice since, instead of bargaining with the faculty union as requested in its demand, management has chosen to effectively bargain with individual members on changes in their working conditions. Further, anything that would require a faculty member to do the work of a striking GEO worker – even if the faculty member is the instructor of record – potentially represents an Unfair Labor Practice in our opinion.

With all that said, you may choose to respond as follows:

Any requests for me to do the labor of a striking worker cannot be fulfilled as this is currently the subject to demand to bargain by UIC United Faculty, and also may be an Unfair Labor Practice.

You may want to add: It is my understanding that it is the responsibility of University administration to respond to and resolve the strike, not the faculty.

What if I feel pressured or even threatened to respond to such a request or any other similar request, or if I am uncertain how to respond?
To date, we have not heard from any faculty member that they have personally felt pressured but rather that the emails coming down are not easily answered even with our guidance. This last “mandate” is particularly difficult considering the time frame for completing it on top of the issues sited above.

At this point, I want to remind all union members that you have Weingarten Rights, which guarantee an employee the right to Union representation during an investigatory interview. An investigatory interview is one in which a Supervisor questions an employee to obtain information which could be used as a basis for discipline or asks an employee to defend his/her conduct. We consider the above circumstances ones under which Weingarten Rights could be claimed.

To claim your Weingarten Rights during an in-person meeting, stop the conversation and say that you do not want to go any further until you have a representative from the union present. Then seek your representative, our chief steward or Jeff Edwards ( If this occurs over email, please contact your representative, our chief steward or Jeff before responding.

How should I discuss the strike with my GA’s/TA’s?
While some contact on the subject of the strike may be unavoidable, we strongly recommend that faculty not discuss the strike with their TA’s/Ga’s. It is unlawful to encourage or discourage participation in union activities (including membership, striking and other actions), and likewise is unlawful to inquire about individual grad workers’ intentions to participate. Finally, it’s unlawful to surveil or record the names of grad workers participating in union activities.

Given these realities, it is best to avoid even the appearance of interference, by simply not engaging in discussions of the strike with grad workers where possible. Grad workers who seek your input or ask specific questions about the strike should be directed to contact UIC GEO and/or their department administrators.

When is it okay to cross a picket line?
While it is permissible to enter a facility when pickets are not active UICUF urges faculty to honor active grad worker pickets unless absolutely unavoidable. This includes crossing lines to access your own office or lab. You should follow your own department/college guidelines to relocate or reschedule classes, exams, etc. to times or locations not being picketed, including online. This may require some advanced planning, and/or coordination with your department office.

If crossing a picket line is unavoidable, faculty should practice solidarity as best they can, by positively engaging with/marching with picketers before entering a picketed building, and informing them why you have to cross their line.

Can I be asked to report on grad worker strike participation?
Recording or reporting strike participation is a clear violation of grad workers’ rights to participate in a labor action free from coercion or intimidation. Such actions will likely be viewed as unfair labor practices by UIC GEO, and therefore are likely to be litigated accordingly. We have also submitted a demand to bargain over the change in working conditions. UICUF does not view a directive to record or report on strike participation as legally enforceable at this time. If you are asked to record or report on strike participation, inform UICUF immediately.

Can an Administrator ask if I Rescheduled/Relocated/Cancelled Class Because of the Strike?
No, faculty are not obligated to report why you altered your class schedule. The Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act prohibits an employer from interfering, restraining or coercing employees in their exercise of rights under the act 115 ILCS 5/14(a)(1).

Asking whether an employee cancelled their class in solidarity with another strike (as opposed to because of illness, weather, poor attendance, or any other reason) is an unfair labor practice. Whatever procedure was already in place for reporting class cancellation has to stand, they cannot create a new procedure for reporting class cancellation because of the strike.

Can grad workers cover classes if there is no active picket at that time/location?
Grad workers can choose to participate in the strike, or not, at their sole discretion, regardless of picket times/locations. The work stoppage, however, is not limited to when pickets are active. Faculty should not, therefore, ask grad workers to work around the picket, or ask whether grad workers intend to withhold their labor at any time while the strike is in effect.

Do I have to cover my grad workers’ classes, grading, etc. until the strike ends?
Faculty should not voluntarily cover work that would otherwise be assigned to TA’s/GA’s, so long as it does not violate department/college policies. Should department/college policy require you to cover certain work, or if you are directly ordered to do so by an administrator, we recommend that you comply within the limit of the requirement, and report it to UICUF immediately. This will help us offer guidance to colleagues in similar situations, or begin the process of pushing back if such direction is inappropriate.

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15 Mar Updated Guidance: Supporting Grad Workers on Strike

From our grad worker colleagues and fellow union members with UIC GEO, further guidance on how you can support them as they prepare to strike for a fair contract.



The Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) is the union representing over 1500 Teaching Assistants and Graduate Assistants at UIC. We have been negotiating a new labor contract with the University administration since March 1, 2018, and we have now announced our intent to strike on March 19. The administration has until then to respond with a fair contract with living wages, more take-home pay, and clear hiring policies.
Specifically, we are fighting for:

Living wages: Grad workers at UIC are among the lowest paid grad workers in Chicago, making $10,000 less than our colleagues at other Research 1 universities in the city.
Fee waivers: UIC grad workers have to pay nearly $2,000 in fees every year. That’s over 10% of our income, amounting to wage theft. We shouldn’t have to pay to work here!
Appointment/reappointment policies: Grad workers often have no idea how hiring/rehiring decisions are made, leading to favoritism, discrimination, and retaliation in our departments.

Of these the demands, the university has outright refused to give us any proposal on fee waivers and re-appointment policies, and has offered us a “raise” that does not keep up with the cost of inflation, which would actually be a pay decrease in real dollars. We deserve better.

Here’s how your union/organization can help:

Donate to/share our strike fund: We have set up a strike fund to make sure we can outlast the administration. If your union/organization could please donate to our fund and share this widely to help us get donations, that would be a HUGE help. You can also mail a check donation to the following address:

C/o Noah Glaser
815 W Van Buren, Ste 203
Chicago, IL 60607

Send a statement of support: Please send your statement of support to either Jeff Schuhrke or Anne Kirkner, our co-presidents, at or to our Executive Director Dawn Tefft at
Join us on the picket lines: Unless the administration decides to give us a fair contract before we intend to strike, we will be out on the picket lines starting Tuesday, March 19, and every day afterwards, until we get the fair contract we deserve. We will be on the picket lines from 8:50am-4:00pm on M/W/F, and 9:20am-4:00pm on T/TH. If you can, please join us on the picket lines in solidarity with us!
Come to our rally: We are planning to hold a big rally on East Campus on March 20 around noon. Please come to support during this rally if you can.

We call on the administration to listen to our demands and build a better UIC for graduate student workers! #WeNeedGEO #WeSeeUIC #FairContractNow #uicUnionPower

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14 Mar MEDIA ADVISORY – UIC faculty to picket during U of I Board meeting



UIC faculty to picket during U of I Board meeting

Chicago, IL – After sacrificing for years, members of the University of Illinois – Chicago United Faculty (UICUF) are seeking salary improvements, protection of existing benefits, and a commitment from the University to hire new tenure-track faculty to serve UIC’s growing student population.

On Thursday, March 14, 2019, UIC United Faculty will rally and picket at UIC’s University Hall, coinciding with a meeting of the U of I Board of Trustees in Urbana. The faculty union will draw attention to the extended and increasingly difficult negotiations with the administration for a fair contract.

WHO: UIC United Faculty (Local 6456), a union representing full-time tenure and non-tenure track faculty at UIC

WHAT: Rally and informational picket highlighting the University’s history of forcing strikes and a potential faculty strike vote

WHERE: UIC University Hall, 601 S Morgan St, Chicago, IL 60607

WHEN: Thursday, March 14, 2019 – 11:30 AM – Rally, 12-1 PM – Picketing

UIC faculty have been working without a contract since August, 2018. As in the past, the administration seems intent on forcing a strike before they will bargain productively. Graduate employees at UIC are currently on the brink of a strike, and faculty may soon be forced to take a strike vote if the administration continues its refusal to compromise.

Follow the UICUF on Facebook for updates.


UIC United Faculty (Local 6456) is an affiliate of the Illinois Federation of Teachers (IFT).The IFT is made up of more than 100,000 teachers and paraprofessionals in PreK-12 school districts throughout Illinois, faculty and staff at community colleges and universities, public employees under every statewide elected constitutional officer, and retirees. 

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08 Mar Guidance on Faculty Conduct During a Grad Worker Strike


The UIC Graduate Employees Organization (GEO), which represents Teaching Assistants and Graduate Assistants, intends to begin their indefinite strike on Tuesday March 19th, 2019 (assuming contract negotiations continue to be stalled). This guide describes how faculty can support GEO, as well as the legal rights of striking workers which must be respected.

The following activities are both legally permissible and recommended by UIC GEO and UICUF for faculty who wish to support striking graduate workers:

  • Avoid crossing picket lines between ~9am and 4pm (detailed hours and location of the pickets below)
    • Consider alternative forms of teaching (e.g. on-line/virtual meeting)
    • Move classes to either evening hours, to an off campus location, or to non-struck buildings, if possible and allowed under your unit’s policy.
  • Don’t perform, or hire replacement workers to perform, duties assigned to TAs or GAs
  • Join GEO members on picket lines when not working.
  • Donate to GEO’s strike fund and share this link among your personal social networks.
  • Wear GEO pins, shirts and other items that demonstrate solidarity in your workplace.
  • Talk to students about why GEO is striking, including fair wages, fee waivers, and appointment transparency.

Union membership, organizing in the workplace, and taking part in a strike are all legally protected activities. Broadly, participation in these activities cannot be punished, interfered with, restrained, or discouraged by an employer. We recommend that faculty be especially mindful of the following legal protections for striking grad workers:

  • It is unlawful to fire, discipline, or retaliate against grad workers for participating in a strike or union activity.
  • It is unlawful to ask grad workers to inform anyone in advance of participating in a strike or union activity.
  • It is unlawful to record or threaten to record the names of grad workers participating in a strike or union activity.
  • It is unlawful to discriminate against, restrain, or coerce grad workers regarding union membership or activity.  


  • Picket lines will be at the following days and times:
    • 8:50am-12pm and 1pm-4pm Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays
    • 9:20am-12:30pm and 1:30pm-4:00pm Tuesdays and Thursdays
  • The buildings that will be struck between the hours of 9am and 4pm are as follows:
    • University Hall (UH)
    • Behavioral Sciences Building (BSB)
    • Lecture Centers A, B, C, D, E, and F
    • The East Campus Library
    • Grant, Douglas, Lincoln, Taft, Burnham, Adams, and Stevenson Halls (GH, DH, LH, TH, BH, AH, SH)
    • Science and Engineering Labs (SEL)
    • Science and Engineering South (SES)
    • Engineering Research Facility (ERF)
    • Education, Theatre, Music, and Social Work (ETMSW)
    • Public Health

As fellow union members, we thank you in advance for respecting the rights of organized graduate employees during any upcoming labor actions, and encourage you to lend your support outside the classroom as you are able.

If you have any questions, please email

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