By Shawn Gakhal firstname.lastname@example.org
Striking for the first time in school history, hundreds of faculty members of the University of Illinois at Chicago stood outside in picket lines and campaigned for higher wages and long-term contracts on Feb. 18 and 19.
The faculty negotiated with the university administration since last August for greater wages, according to the UIC United Faculty.
The school cited low funds as a reason why the initial demands of the faculty haven’t been met.
A plethora of classes were cancelled on the consecutive protest days, as even a few UIC students joined in on the protests with their professors.
“Hundreds of classes were canceled over Tuesday and Wednesday, so most students at UIC had at least one class that was affected,” said Judy Heithmar, a graduate assistant to the Chancellor’s Committee on the Status of LGBTQ People & Allies at UIC. “Some classes that were taught by graduate employees were not canceled, however. Students were asked not to attend class on Tuesday and Wednesday and to join the faculty on the picket lines. There were over 100 students who participated in the strike over the two days.”
Among the issue of low wages, the faculty is also seeking multiyear contracts, a living wage for non-tenured faculty and better classroom conditions.
Junior Evan Kreft described the process of UIC professors joining the picket lines and also talked about how the important strike information was disseminated to the student body.
“All the professors went to the [UIC] quad and formed a picket line on the first day,” Kreft said. “On the second day … a lot of the teachers were out on the campus, handing out information about it.”
Heithmar, along with other students from other organizations at UIC, helped join their professors in rallying for the cause.
“There were several student organizations like Students Organizing for Socialism, United Students Against Sweatshops and Roots of Justice, as well as teaching and graduate assistants, who made up the Campus Worker Student Coalition,” Heithmar said.
She went on to explain how the differing and diverse student population contributed to their faculty’s plight.
“Some students participated by signing a petition that was sent to President Easter, stating that they supported the faculty’s demands, while others were able to make it out to the picket lines and chant [and] walk with their faculty,” Heithmar said. “Other students wore blue armbands to show their solidarity with the faculty around campus. Students also had the opportunity to speak at a Solidarity rally on Tuesday. My personal role was to garner support from as many students from my [social work] department as possible. I did this mostly by distributing flyers in the classrooms, sending e-mails and making phone calls. During the strike, I helped to lead chants, provided chant sheets for people, walked the picket lines with faculty and passed out information regarding the strike to students at a literature table that Students Organizing for Socialism had.”
Joe Persky, a UIC economics professor and UICUF President, recently told Chicago Tonight that the faculty desires a living wage and better job security.
“The outrageous situation here is that we have 70 full-time lecturers who are making $30,000 a year, and one of our top priorities is to get them up to a living wage and a multi-year contract,” Persky said.“People who have been here 10 years or more who have proven their worth shouldn’t be coming in early August and not knowing if they have a job.”
According to CBS Chicago, the faculty is seeking $45,000 for non-tenured faculty, and the administration has countered with $36,000. While low wages dominated the news headlines in regards to the faculty demands, there were more harrowing details to their case than originally conceived.
“They were striking not only because of low-wages, but because of bad working conditions,” Heithmar said. “Many of the classrooms are not up to date, and even labs at UIC are missing necessary equipment and are unsafe. The faculty went on strike for many reasons of direct benefit to students, which included smaller class sizes, more individualized instruction and more support for cutting-edge research.”
Heithmar also mentioned that over the past five years, tenured faculty positions have decreased by one percent, and administrative positions have increased by 10 percent.
“It is clear who is being prioritized and valued at UIC,” she said.
UIC officials said in a written statement that the union’s proposals would boost total expenditures by roughly 23 percent for tenured faculty and 27 percent for non-tenured faculty.
The two sides met Feb. 21 and 24, and even though a few articles of the faculty’s proposal have been agreed upon, there has been no complete resolution, as of yet.