Why We Unionize
On Tuesday, August 15th, 2017, the collective bargaining agreement between the University of Illinois and the Graduate Employees' Organization (GEO) expired.
On Monday, January 29th, 2018 - 168 days later - the GEO filed intent to strike paperwork that would permit a legal strike.
On Wednesday, February 7th, 2018 - two days before a strike would be legal - the University bargaining team declared a strike over tuition waiver protections would be illegal.
On Monday, February 26th, 2018 - 15 days from today - the GEO membership will strike, shutting down the better part of the University of Illinois campus.
During the term of this Agreement, Graduate Assistants and Teaching Assistants will not have their tuition waivers reduced while they hold qualifying assistantships, are in good academic standing, and are making proper progress toward graduation in the program in which they began.
There are many reasons to form a union. Solidarity. Protection. Stability. Here are a few of mine.
I am a member of the University of Illinois and also the GEO. Over the last six years I've taught hundreds of students at the University of Illinois. I've graded their papers, held office hours, and answered their emails. I've also discussed with them what it means to live a good life, showed them how to avoid lazy and fallacious reasoning, and helped them develop an authorial voice that they recognize as their own.
A lot has happened to me since I started grad school, both good and bad. One thing I've never had to worry about was whether I would lose my tuition waiver. I can be confident that I'll keep that tuition waiver only because of the 42 word sideletter to the contract quoted above that the GEO won in 2012. For many (and I suspect most) graduate students a tuition waiver is the only thing that grants them access to this level of education. Without a tuition waiver we would not be here. And so, without the GEO we would not be here.
I also recognize that the GEO protects a lot of people whose lives are significantly different from mine. To make graduate education accessible to everyone we must provide everyone with the foundational stability and ease that is necessary for academic pursuits. Call it σχολή or otium or whatever you want, but people can't be students, they can't be teachers, and they can't do research if they are hungry, sick, or destitute. Some of what the GEO fights for doesn't apply to me but it does apply to my fellow graduate students and that's enough.
So, if the University of Illinois really is "the pre-eminent public research university" with a mission to "enhance the lives of citizens in Illinois, across the nation and around the world through our leadership in learning, discovery, engagement and economic development" then the Administration should have no qualms about maintaining the promise they have made to anyone who wants to pursue a graduate education: that they can do it here. To do that we need healthcare, a living wage, and a guarantee (not just an 'eligibility') of a tuition waiver. They have 15 days to make their commitment to pre-eminance clear.