Faculty FAQ on Grad Worker Strike

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 UICUnitedFaculty@gmail.com 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 Chancellor@uic.eduProvost@uic.edupresidentkilleen@uillinois.edu and Board of Trustees (uibot@uillinois.edu).

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 uicunitedfaculty@gmail.com.

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 (UICUFJeff@gmail.com). 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.