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UIC teaching assistants go on strike

The union representing teaching and graduate assistants reached a tentative contract agreement Thursday night with the University of Illinois at Chicago, but the strike is not over yet. | Sun-Times file photo

More than 1,500 teaching assistants and graduate assistants at the University of Illinois at Chicago went on strike Tuesday.

The group of graduate students picketed Tuesday outside the iconic Jane Addams Hull House-Museum, 800 S. Halsted St., as well as at several other spots on campus, which is just southwest downtown Chicago.

Wages are at the heart of the strike, with some graduate assistants earning as little as $18,000, according to their union, the UIC Graduate Employees Organization.

“Despite being highly educated professionals providing skilled labor for a multibillion-dollar institution, UIC grad workers live on the edge of poverty,” the statement said.

A statement posted by university administrators to the school’s website read, in part: “All members of the university community will be expected to meet for classes as usual. During a strike, the university is committed to continuing normal operations to the fullest extent possible. Students and parents can be assured that educational objectives will be fulfilled, and grades should not be affected.”

The statement recognized their right to strike but stated: “We believe that this work stoppage is not in the best interest of the University, or our students.”

Bargaining is scheduled to resume Friday, both sides said.

The work stoppage comes after 12 months of contract negotiations have stalled. The group’s contract expired Sept. 30.

In its statement, the union sought to contrast graduate assistants’ low wages against the increasing health of the university.

“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,” the statement said.

This is the second consecutive year that grad workers at a U of I campus went on strike. Last February, grad workers at the Urbana-Champaign campus went on strike for nearly two weeks before reaching an agreement.