The Primate Diaries

In an overwhelming majority members of the Graduate Employee’s Organization (GEO) at the University of Illinois at at Urbana-Champaign authorized their union to to go on strike if the university doesn’t change direction in their current negotiations.

According to a GEO Press Release sent out Monday:

Over the course of a three day vote, an overwhelming 92% of participating GEO members chose to authorize a strike against the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. With the vote, GEO members have given the strike committee of the GEO a clear mandate to call a strike at any time. The Graduate Employee’s Organization, American Federation of Teachers/Illinois Federation of Teachers Local 6300, AFL-CIO, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is a labor union representing all teaching and graduate assistants (TAs and GAs) on the UIUC campus. With over 2600 GEO members, and over 2600 graduate employees represented in the bargaining unit, the GEO is one of the largest higher education union locals in the United States.

The union is asking that the university set the minimum salary for a 50% nine month appointment at the University’s estimate of a living wage for all Teaching Assistants and Graduate Assistants. Graduate students teach nearly one quarter of all classroom hours yet bring in 6.5% of the state funds, compared to 55% for faculty. The University administrators claim that paying TAs a living wage is impossible given the budget crisis in Illinois. However, as GEO points out, the administration has made some dubious choices on where to allocate scarce resources:

Instead of advocating on the behalf of students and workers, administrators were granting costly favors to state politicians. The former Chancellor diverted $450,000 of discretionary funds to provide jobs and scholarships for politically well-connected but undeserving applicants. Another $400,000 went to the attorneys who represented the University before the Governor’s investigative committee, and another $550,000 to new faculty appointments for the former President and Chancellor. In this context, the GEO finds it hard to trust the UIUC administration when it argues that there is not enough money to provide a living wage. From the GEO’s perspective, it appears that budget priorities are simply out of place. When campus revenues rose by 7% in FY 2009, only 0.8% ($2.7 million) went to undergraduate instruction. Meanwhile, the Chief Information Officer’s budget rose by 10.9 percent ($1.6 million), and the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics budget increased 6.2 percent ($4.1 million).

The members want to avoid a strike at all costs and will be holding a rally at the University of Illinois Board of Trustees Meeting in Springfield, IL on November 12. The rest is up to the administration.


  1. #1 Grad student at UIUC
    November 11, 2009

    “In an overwhelming majority members of the Graduate Employee’s Organization (GEO) at the University of Illinois at at Urbana-Champaign authorized their union to to go on strike if the university doesn’t change direction in their current negotiations.”

    This is an inaccurate statement. Only 777 of 10,000 graduate students voted in this election. Of those, 92% voted “yes to strike” because these 777 people are members of the few poorly funded departments on campus.

    When it comes down to it, the majority of graduate students at the university have much much better funding than what is being presented by the GEO. This is really a department issue. If the department isn’t well funded, then its graduate students will be over burdened with classes and underpaid. However, we know this going in. When you decide to come to a school, you assess the package offered and the teaching load required.

    Even considering the few departments that make less than the standard: They are typically at a 33% assistantship, meaning they are to work for 13 or so hours a week. For this 13 hours they receive a stipend (of at least $13500), as well as 15-25k in tuition and healthcare benefits. This amounts to 27-45k a year. Who else in the world works for this amount and gets these benefits?

    When you decide to become a graduate student, you are making a CHOICE to sacrifice a high paying job. If you have a family, this might mean sacrificing time with them as well as the ability to support them. Stipends are not meant to support a family, they are meant to support an individual to complete their studies.

    Bottom line is that the GEO statements are misleading at best. These are the needs of a few and these statements do not represent the needs and opinions of the majority of the graduate student population.

  2. #2 Another Grad Student at UIUC
    November 11, 2009

    In regards to the earlier student’s comment, that’s how democracy works. If you were so opposed to voting for a strike then you should have gotten more involved. We’ve been moving in this direction for months. When it comes down to it, you’re a member of this union and you either take part in it or accept the decision that others make on your behalf.

  3. #3 Grad student at UIUC
    November 11, 2009

    The reason I was not involved in this is because I have better things to do like finish my degree rather than worry about the poor choices that the humanities students made in accepting terrible offers in the first place.

  4. #4 matt
    November 11, 2009

    As a former Illinois student, I support the GA/TA strike. These people work to teach the rest of us and they deserve to be treated better. We students pay this university, and we should support our TA’s. They do alot more to teach us than the faculty!

  5. #5 michellespidermonkey
    November 11, 2009

    Minimum salary for a 50% appointment at a living wage sounds like a brilliant idea–I hope that goes through, and I hope this motivates other graduate student organizations to do the same.

    I must say I’m appalled at the statements by grad student #1 above–I never thought I’d here those sort of statements voiced by another graduate student. Yes, we all know what we’re signing up for when we begin graduate school, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get a living wage–if you are in a better-funded department great, but I would hope that most of us choose to go to graduate school in a particularly discipline because we are passionate about that subject, not because it has better funded opportunities than other disciplines.

    And given that graduate programs in the US take so long to complete (in part due to heavy course requirements, but often largely due to heavy teaching assignments), I’m think it’s unreasonable to expect graduate students to forgo marriage/reproduction in addition to taking a vow of poverty until its over (especially for women, given that the years in grad school tend to coincide with prime reproductive years). Regardless that seems irrelevant, because “living wage” means enough for one person (the student) to support themselves without loans or parental/spousal support–granting grad students a living wage isn’t going to make it possible for them to support anyone but themselves.

    I also wonder what the actual workload of those 33% positions (although the living wage for 50% clearly would not apply to these positions)–I wouldn’t be surprised if they are actually a greater workload than is outlined in the contract (I haven’t taught at a university that has 33% positions, but in my experience with a 25% position, the workload was far heavier than what I was supposedly getting paid for).

    Anyway, I just want to throw in my two cents for a bit of perspective. I went to University of Illinois for undergrad, and in my two majors (Psychology and Biology, both of which are probably in the middle of the funding continuum), the only classes I had that were less than 100+ lectures in those disciplines were taught by TAs (and in those large classes, TAs were responsible for grading, etc). Graduate students were the people that were responsible for the majority of my undergraduate education–shouldn’t they be paid at least enough to support themselves?

  6. #6 chris s.
    November 11, 2009

    #3. I’m going to ignore your slight against half the university (you would’ve thought the science wars were over by now). But do you really think we don’t also have better things to do? I’m glad you received a good deal, but we’re trying to better ourselves in a messed up situation.

    If you’re so against this strike would you be willing to share some of what you have so that those of us with families to raise can actually make ends meet? If this strike goes through it’s going to be a major disruption to my work. But look at how the university spends their resources rather than supporting their teaching staff? Don’t forget that the undergrads who are in your lab are also my students. This is going to disrupt them and, by implication, your work as well. We’re all in this together and we should all work to support one another rather than lay blame.

  7. #7 UIUC graduate student
    November 11, 2009

    The notion that we accepted “terrible offers in the first place” is a moot point. The contract that I accepted when I chose this school has expired and we are negotiating a NEW one. The new proposed contract by the administration did not even maintain the status quo…in fact, it was aggressive recessive. This is not only about money. It’s about treating people as human beings and prioritizing education. Despite the fact that the university doesn’t pay us a living wage (and I find that morally reprehensible), they also wanted to remove our rights concerning grievance procedures, discrimination, parenting, etc., as well as reserve the right to furlough the LOWEST paid workers and use payment in kind as compensation. Maybe the corrupt, fat cat administrators could take a furlough day? Graduate school should be for the best and the brightest in their disciplines, not the affluent, single crowd with no dependents.

  8. #8 rich lawler
    November 12, 2009

    What does the average grad student in a non-science department make at UIUC (my alma mater) these days? A living wage seems like a fair thing to petition for.

    This unionization stuff came up when I was in grad school at Yale. Speaking only for myself, I was opposed to it largely because it seemed silly to claim that we were being treated unfairly when we 1) signed up for grad school voluntarily and presumably read the offer letter that outlined our funding and job requirements; 2) were given healthcare + stipend + tuition; and 3) the hardest thing going-on in our lives was to teach, research, read, and write about an esoteric topic that we found fascinating. I didn’t have much to complain about, and frankly some of the pro-unionization arguments seemed borderline offensive; they were often couched in terms of oppression and slavishness, and lacked a wider appreciation for hardships found in the real world (and I certainly didn’t consider Yale grad school a part of the real world–of course other grad students certainly differed with my opinion). Some of the most vocal pro-unionizers came to Yale from private undergrad (often Ivy League) schools and it was difficult for me to wrap my mind around their claims of under-privilege. There was a fair amount of aggressive self-righteousness among the pro-union grad students and I think they would have gotten more support if they actually did less proselytizing not more. In a broader sense, union-organizers in grad school will always need to consider the ole “relative versus absolute” concept in terms of how much oppression and disingenuousness is actually occurring at their university vis-a-vis other parts of the world. Grad students will always have different perspectives about how they are treated and how good/bad they have it, and such views will obviously motivate whether they require a union as a necessary component for matriculation. My own experience was that I was happy in grad school and I didn’t feel like being railroaded into a organization based on other’s discontent, particularly since I wasn’t exactly sure if the discontent stemmed from financial hardships or whether it was from that ubiquitous malaise that graduate school induces in all of its students. Often, but not always, I got the impression that some folks were using the pro-unionization movement as an emotional outlet to voice their general frustration with grad school as a whole; that is, it wasn’t so much a labor-law issue as it was an increasing awareness that grad school is not the cake-walk it was made out to be.

    One of the things I really didn’t like was that if you came out against a grad student union you were somehow labeled as anti-union in general. Nothing could be further from the truth. Arguments to join a union along the lines of “okay, you’ve got nothing to complain about but what about other grad students? Why don’t you join us for their sake, not yours…” never rang true to me, since the idea of guilded protection for what is otherwise an ephemeral collection of fairly well-off twenty-somethings seemed unnecessary. The etiology of unions is to protect workers who have real jobs. To me the difference between grad school and a real job is this: if you do your “job” expediently in grad school, you lose it–that is, you graduate. This distinction always led me to think that grad school was a temporary stage on the way to getting a real job, and as such didn’t require unionized protection.

    But to close in similar vein to my initial thought, asking for a living wage (and I definitely sympathize with grad students who have families) and expanding rather than narrowing things like grievance policies is not asking too much. In particular, achieving financial and teaching-load parity for grad students across all departments is something that all universities should strive for–it’s genuinely bad for morale if this issue is not addressed. Such requests will be difficult to achieve given that Illinois is in deep financial trouble, but it’s certainly worth fighting for; just don’t demonize those that don’t join your cause–they’re not selfish, they are just differently motivated.

  9. #9 yet another UIUC grad student
    November 12, 2009

    The main issues are as follows:

    Furloughing a grad student is ridiculous. The university wants to reserve the right to pay the grad students across the entire university less for the same amount of work. Up to 40% less. Your $2k/month sciences TA stipend could drop down to $1.2k/month and you’ll be expected to do the same amount of work.

    Threatening to drop tuition waivers is absurd. The fact that they want the right to deny us tuition waivers at any time means that they could ostensibly drop tuition waivers halfway through the semester and hold us financially accountable for the waiver, regardless. Most of the grad students in my department are out-of-state, and many are international students. Take away our tuition waiver, and we’re $8k in debt to the university and unable to continue our studies.

    The university is not as broke as they pretend they are. They just received a huge handout of funds from the state to keep them from laying off employees and/or cutting salaries. In other words, the taypayers of Illinois just paid the university 1.5% of their total budget in order to prevent the university from doing exactly what they’re doing now. This is a gross misappropriation of public money that needs to be addressed.

    The university has refused to negotiate even under federal mediation. Payment in kind (i.e. replacing stipend with housing and meal vouchers for campus housing) was only dropped from the university proposal after the strike was authorized. So was the contract clause that would prevent any student from filing discrimination grievances against the university. According to people I know on the bargaining committee, negotiations until recently involved the administration representatives making personal insults for half an hour and then leaving the negotiation table. As far as I understand, the point of a negotiation is for the two parties to come together and talk and work out a compromise. The GEO has been willing to compromise for over 6 months now. The university did not compromise at all even on contract clauses that are patently illegal at the state and federal level until we voted to authorize a strike.

    For the record, I’m a grad student in the natural sciences. The “lulz humanities” trope is bullshit. Humanities students work at least as hard as we do for a hell of a lot less, but we’re all at risk of losing our education and our employment.

  10. #10 murray sprung
    November 12, 2009

    I am an alum from UIUC, as is my wife, my brother and several other family members. My son graduated from there and is currently a TA scheduled to graduate in December (yea).

    The concept of a living wage is great, but does not belong in this conversation. As a student, you are receiving an education as well as a stipend to assist you provide for living expenses. This is not a position that should be applied for because of a poor job market – ie I can teach 20 hours per week, get a degree and earn the same income I would earn in a job – even one beneath my education. If I can make $20,000 a year as a waiter while looking for a job in my field (as people I know are doing), why should a TA be able to demand more, in addition to the tuition waiver? How many students put themselves through school by working during the school year and then over the summer. If you have a family – there is always a second potential bread winner.

    There are other issues in the contract that are much more defensible. The TA agreement should be treated as a contract for a sufficient period of time to allow student to receive their degree. The rights to reduce work or terminate the position, suddenly requiring a student to pay big money to complete the degree is unfair and definitely worth fighting for. The pay issue to me is not the problem – if the package isn’t sufficient, don’t go. Once committed however, this is a two way street and the University should be held to its end of the deal.

    If they want offer NEW grad students a package that includes university housing and meal plans for a reduced wage, and the student accepts it, what is the problem? A living wage means sufficient funds to live. If you pay the living costs, isn’t the student getting what they want. The union needs to fight the right fight.

  11. #11 Illini All the way
    November 12, 2009

    As a graduate TA at the University of Illinois, I will tell you this is NOT about an increase in wages. They are threatening to take away our tuition waivers and impose furloughs. Here is a break down of how this works:

    Graduate students must take 12 hours of classes in order to remain a full time student. At graduate rates, this is a substantial amount of money. Students only need about 24 credits in order to get a masters (32 for PhD.) that boils down to about 6-8 hours a semester. Where do the other 4 hours go? Thesis. The biggest screw over ever. You pay for four hours of class work and get…..NOTHING. It isn’t so bad with a tuition waiver, but without you are talking about conservatively a $20,000 a year swing for full tuition. Even more if you are out of state.
    To further add insult to injury, furloughs kill graduate TAs. We normally only teach 2 or 3 times a week. This does not take into account the prep work, grading, office hours, etc that also go into prepping for these classes. (All of which happens on non-teaching days)
    In the end, the new contract could cost the average TA grad student at least $20,000 a year in tuition plus only give them 2/5 or 40% of their $12,000 salary.
    Would you sign this?

    For most of us, this new agreement is the equivalent of getting expelled.

  12. #12 michellespidermonkey
    November 13, 2009

    Murray–regarding the demands for a “living wage”, that wage is less than the $20,000 that you can earn working as a waiter. I personally believe that the concept of a living wage does belong in this conversation, and all conversations regarding the funding of graduate school. Yes, you are also getting an education, but at the same time, graduate students are responsible for the bulk of undergraduate education and most public institutions (and this is definitely true at U of I). Given that, even with in-state tuition costs, undergrads (or their parents) are paying quite a lot for their education, or going into debt for it, I think it’s fair for some of that money to actually go towards those that are doing their teaching.

    In addition, the problem with being paid less than a living wage puts graduate students in a bind. We all know the best thing to do is focus on your own work and get through as fast as you can, but without a living wage, many graduate students have to either get other jobs to support themselves (in addition to the teaching position), or accrue large amounts of debt. Given the precarious nature of the job market, and typical salaries in academic positions, it may be impossible to ever get out of debt.

  13. #13 yet another UIUC grad student
    November 13, 2009

    The situation with tuition waivers is even more sinister.

    I have a 50% TA appointment through the university. This means that I am expected to put 20 hours of my labor per week towards teaching. Because I teach a laboratory portion of a class, I spend about three hours a week teaching, three hours assisting the professor I teach for, two hours in office hours, and the remainder of that allotted time grading, preparing labs, updating website information, responding to student emails, etc. In actuality, I generally spend between 25 and 30 hours per week, even though I am paid for 20.

    Now, I only take 8 hours of coursework per semester, but I am required to take 8 hours of coursework per semester or else I cannot receive my assistantship. So, in practice, I’m a part-time student. However, my teaching assistantship counts as an additional 8 hours of registered course time, placing me into full time status. As such, I am receiving part-time instruction but I am considered by the university to be a full-time student. When the university is assessing my tuition and the tuition of other TAs, our time spent giving instruction is counted towards the time we are being charged for receiving instruction. I’m literally being charged by the university to teach their classes. An additional portion of this is required thesis credit, which means that I am being assessed by the university for two to four hours a semester for work that I am personally directing and that does not cost the university at all. I am literally getting charged to teach myself.

    Now, I’m also an out-of-state student, because the university is largely trying to draw quality students from outside the state. This means that when my tuition is being assessed, it is being assessed as a full-time out of state student, despite the fact that I am employed in-state, am paying all my taxes in state, and have established legal residency in state. However, the university by-laws permit them to assess my tuition as out of state, which is approximately double what an in state student pays.

    So, now, back to the tuition waivers and what this means.

    When the university waives tuition, they consider it a “cost” of receiving that education. They are deducting in my case the full expense of a full time student who is paying taxes out of state. However, we’ve already established that I am paying taxes in-state and taking only 8 hours of classwork, placing me at what actually amounts to part-time status. So what they’re actually doing is waiving the right to charge me for me labor plus part-time tuition. I still pay full student fees and course fees, so I’m not getting my education for free. However, the university is still calculating in those tallies they’re circulating that I’m costing them nearly $20,000 in tuition per year, despite the fact that literally half of that assessment is based on my labor.

    So what does this mean in terms of our stance on tuition waivers?

    First, it means that tuition waivers are critical to our ability as students to go to school. The cost of attending a graduate school as an out-of-state student (which is critical if you want to work in a specific discipline that is not represented at your local state school) is prohibitive and only, really, the wealthiest students could really afford it. This is unacceptable if we care about maintaining a competitive academia in the US, if we care about providing underprivileged demographics the opportunity to get an education, and so forth.

    Second, it means that TAs will literally be charged to teach. As an out of state student, the amount of money I would be paying the university to teach a 50% appointment would be approximately equivalent to the amount of money the university would pay me to teach the class. Because I am required also to pay several hundred dollars as a full-time student (that I would not be required to pay as a part-time student) I would literally be losing money to be registered as a full-time student rather than a part-time student, even though the amount of instruction I would be receiving would be the same, and even though I would be providing 20+ hours a week (and let’s be honest, it’s more like 30) of labor to the school.

    Combine this with the possibility of furloughs, and you’re seeing the possibility that the university would be charging us for the entire allotment of our labor (20 hours a week) and paying us for only a fraction of that allotment (12-16 hours a week).

    We provide cheap labor for the university. The university uses our labor as an excuse to draw funds from federally-provided grant money and state provided university funding, so they’re getting large sums of actual revenue in return for that “lost revenue” that exists on paper only. Instead of having to hire a full-time salaried employee with state and federally-protected benefits, the university can (and does) offer us cheap and subpar alternatives. As a result, we teach approximately 1/4 of the course credit on this campus, and probably nearly half the actual classroom time. In order to achieve the level of instruction they receive from us, they would have to hire over 1000 salaried lecturers with all the associated costs. The university does not pay unemployment, for instance, for its graduate employees. It doesn’t offer family health care packages. It doesn’t offer comprehensive health care, but rather infirmary-style care at the university health center. All of these things are required for salaried employees.

    The fact of the matter is, the university sees us as exploitable labor and sees us as a potential source of additional revenue. The university has not stopped other huge expenditures, such as eminent domain lobbying to expand the Agricultural School’s holdings in the South Farms and expansion of a possible athletics complex north of campus. The university has spent huge amounts of money denying wrongdoing in a clear case of state-level corruption, even after two top administrators resigned from their administrative positions over the scandal. They have received large amounts of money from the state to protect graduate student employment at the university, but that money has been directed towards 8-10% raises for the top members of the administration and has not trickled down at all to the primary labor forces on campus (graduate students, support staff, facilities staff, etc.). For a university that has a mission to ensure quality education, the administration at UIUC certainly seems more interested in developing patentable biofuels and supporting a profitable football team than ensuring that quality education.

    If you think we’re greedy, that’s your opinion. But the fact of the matter is, a very large portion of our bargaining unit thinks our grievances are legitimate, and we have overwhelming faculty and undergraduate support outside of our bargaining unit, and vocal support outside of the school system. Despite the university’s claims to the contrary, we will shut down a significant portion of instruction at UIUC come Monday, and the university hasn’t a clue how to replace our labor. If we’re so replaceable and the university is simply throwing us a bone out of the goodness of their hearts, that shouldn’t be the case.

  14. #14 a UIUC undergraduate student
    November 13, 2009

    While the ends the GEO is hoping to achieve are respectable, the formula for which it has been carried out is unfair and misrepresentative of where the source of the issue truly is. As an undergraduate student who has taken out several loans and has worked long hours to fund my time here at Illinois, I feel that that I am being cheated out of an education which I rightfully deserve. The contract under which the graduate TAs now function is no result of any actions by undergraduate students. Nevertheless, undergraduate students are bearing the brunt of this issue. Whether this strike lasts 1 day or lasts for the remainder of the semester, I am paying for an education that, with the strike, I will not be getting.
    I cannot claim that I am fully enlightened on the negotiations that have been in order for a more well-suited contract other than that they have been going on since April. In turn, I do not know what other possible ways the GEO could have voiced their opinions and demands in an equally strong manner. Still, that being said, the injustices presented with the formula on which they have settled are undeniable. While many of the undergraduate students have not voiced opinions due to many disconnects from financial matters and an altogether excitement for having a break from school work — the argument lies in the principle. If the GEO is entitled to higher wages and more benefits, am I not entitled to an education?

  15. #15 yet another UIUC grad student
    November 13, 2009

    Hello. I’m a graduate student at UIUC, and I understand where you’re coming from.

    If you are reading the Daily Illini, you are probably receiving a lot of nasty press about the GEO, claiming that we are being completely unreasonable and are trying to screw over the undergraduates. What the Daily Illini is not telling you is that this really truly is an action of last resort.

    We’ve been working without a contract since August. We attempted to enter into negotiations with the university in April. We offered a set of requests and expected to be met in good faith at the negotiation table. Instead, the university refused to offer us a proposal of any sort and instead, at every negotiation meeting, spent that period of time personally insulting our bargaining team and refused any actual negotiation.

    When the university continued to refuse to negotiate with us, we brought in a federal negotiator. This is our legal right as a collective bargaining organization and is the right of any organized labor unit. The university continued to refuse to negotiate even under federal mediation. When the university finally offered a proposal, they gave us something that we could not possibly accept under any circumstances. The proposed contract that the university wants us to sign would essentially deny all but independently wealthy graduate students from seeking a higher degree.

    I’ve already discussed a few of the regressive changes that this contract would have involved. It would also have involved a prohibition on filing grievances of any kind for discrimination of any kind (such a prohibition is illegal at the state and federal level), the right of the university to fire any TA in good standing at any time without reason, the right of the university to pay us “in kind” by forcing us to live in the failed university housing projects off campus (and thus reducing our stipend and turning them a profit at the same time), a complete loss of health care benefits of any sort, and a variety of other completely unacceptable things.

    When the university proposed this, we immediately tried to negotiate the contract down to something that we could accept. For obvious reasons, we cannot accept a contract which would put us at risk of losing our means of support, and the university has not offered us any evidence that the burden placed on the TAs and GAs is not undue. If money is so tight, the administration should not be giving the highest paid employees on campus a 10% raise. If the economic situation is so abysmal that the university has to demand that the lowest paid employees have to accept an 8-40% pay cut and may literally have to pay the university for the privilege of donating our labor in the classroom, then such raised require extraordinary justification.

    However, when we dropped significant portions of our proposal in order to try to meet the university in the middle and secure the most important parts of a fair and secure contract, the university refused to change their proposal. This has been the situation since August. We have offered to drop additional portions of our demands and the university refuses to relinquish powers that they claim they will never use anyways. If the university does not ever intend to revoke our tuition waivers and place us in debt to the university partway through a term and in violation of departmental contracts, then why does the university refuse to remove such a clause from the proposed contract in order to secure a real, concrete concession from us? Had the university been negotiating in good faith, this would have been over in September.

    Which brings us to November 16th. The first time we were able to get the university to negotiate on anything was after we authorized the strike last week. Since then, the university has refused to discuss the three primary issues: preservation of promised tuition waivers, protection of graduate employees from furloughing, and raising the wages of the very bottommost income brackets within the GEO. We are, contrary to popular opinion, not asking for anything unreasonable. I am happy enough with my stipend and I and many others like me will not receive a raise of any sort even if the GEO gets every demand met at this point. It is only the lowest-paid graduate employees, who are being paid below the university’s own estimates for a living wage, who will see a raise, and that raise will probably not reach the living wage estimate. All we want is the security of knowing that we can trust that we will get paid for the work we have been contracted to provide, and that we can trust that we will not be suddenly be placed into debt by the university. We are, truly, asking that the university maintains the old contract and tightens up a few loopholes that we find problematic.

    We understand where you’re coming from. We really do. Two years ago, I was an undergraduate, and believe it or not, I can relate. We simply do not know of a different course of action at this point. We have met with the university in god faith and we have received worse than nothing. We have tried to be reasonable and we have received worse than nothing. We were only met at the negotiation table when we threatened a strike, and that was after countless hours of trying to work something out conveniently.

    We do in fact recognize that you’re putting in a huge amount of money and effort towards receiving your education. We also strongly believe that our ability to offer you that education is contingent on our ability to trust that we will have the jobs we moved here for and rejected other offers for. A stressed TA is a bad TA. A class where TAs are being replaced as they are sequentially laid off is a bad class. Not to mention that may of you are going to soon find that you are in the same position as us, and our ability to negotiate a fair contract now will affect your abilities to secure one in the future.

    I agree, the fact that we have no other recourse against the university at this point is terrible, and the fact that you as an undergraduate are caught in the crossfire is a travesty. At the same time, this is a legal strike and is literally our last resort. The state has determined that we as laborers have a right to collectively bargain, and the university’s unwillingness to bargain with us is the problem, not the fact that we have used the only real tool we have to bring the university to the table in earnest. There is one party here who is legally responsible for the current impasse and who is legally responsible for any lost classes you may incur, and that is the University of Illinois, not the GEO. I strongly encourage you to make your voices heard and, if necessary, to consider filing suit against the university for lost coursework.

  16. #16 X-Illini prof
    November 15, 2009

    I look forward to watching the strike. It will be fun to see if solidarity prevails. My understanding is that the vast majority of graduate students working at RAs and the TAs in business, science, and agriculture will cross the picket lines. If so, will the University sit tight and hope that the strike continues into the spring semester? Then the strikers will lose their tuition and fee waivers since they will not be employed.

    Remember, too, that no other employees at the U of I received raises in the past year. Many lost jobs or are currently on terminal contracts.

  17. #17 jputney
    November 15, 2009

    Well as it turns out the wages and furloughs were not the main issue for the University. Reading the new UI press release it seems the University is opting to have its graduate employees strike rather then granting them a guarantee not to withdraw tuition waivers. For months now the University has claimed they cannot come to an agreement over their graduate employee’s contracts because the tough economic climate has forced them to demand the right to furlough employees and keep their minimum salaries below what the university considers a livable wage. But when it came down to the wire last night this turned out to be a bluff. According to the UI’s own press release the protection of tuition waiver’s for graduate employee’s is the only issue they could not come to agreement on, thus showing the first strong sign that the university does plan on changing this practice. The consequences of which seem quite clear: the UI will begin using graduate employee’s not only as a source of cheap labor but secondarily as a revenue stream. Graduate education at a public university will be pay to play and unreachable to large segment of the public.

    I truly think what happens there will effect other universities, so I’m in full support.

  18. #18 yet another UIUC grad student
    November 16, 2009

    So far we had over 1000 TAs show up on the picket lines, and the university called an emergency negotiation meeting tomorrow morning.

  19. #19 Kirby Timmons
    November 17, 2009

    As a member of the Writer’s Guild of America, I’ve proudly told my son, currently a grad student at UIUC, of my participation in three WGA work stoppages in Los Angeles since 1983. I honestly didn’t think he was listening all that much. When he called me on Monday to say he was part of the graduate student strike in Urbana, I could not have been prouder! Stand tall, son; you’re part of an esteemed American, and family, tradition!

    Kirby Timmons

  20. #20 yet another UIUC grad student
    November 19, 2009

    Update: we won.

  21. #21 Alena
    December 18, 2009

    I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.