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UIC graduate workers ratify new contract, wait for university to follow

Graduate workers at the University of Illinois at Chicago ratified a contract Tuesday. Now the university must ratify it in order to take effect. | Onar Vikingstad / Wikimedia Commons

Teaching assistants at the University of Illinois at Chicago have ratified a new contract after ending a two-week strike and negotiating for 13 months, union leaders said Tuesday.

The university’s board of trustees must now approve the contract for it to take effect, UIC spokeswoman Sherri McGinnis Gonzalez said.

The union is concerned that the school will delay ratifying the contract until after the end of the semester on May 3 — the deadline for retroactive raises to be applied to current grad workers.

“Given the UIC administration’s history, we wouldn’t put it past them to deliberately drag their feet on ratifying this contract in order to cheat us out of this year’s retroactive raise,” UIC Graduate Employees Organization co-president Jeff Schuhrke said in a statement.

Schuhrke said the administration initially did not want to offer retroactive raises and that the union fought to win the concession.

The school has not set a date to ratify the contract, McGinnis Gonzalez said Tuesday evening.

The three-year tentative contract will ensure pay raises, cheaper health care and other financial benefits for the 1,500 workers represented by the union who went back to their classrooms Monday.

The teaching assistants and graduate workers make a baseline salary of $18,000 and pay $2,000 in university fees, the union said.

According to Schuhrke, those fees were used in the past to offset raises and give pay cuts.

The new contract will reduce those fees, increase company contributions to health-care plans and raise annual wages by $2,550 over three years, which is the largest raise in the union’s history.

Hiring discrimination on the basis of citizenship or immigration will be barred, the union said.

Results of the union vote showed that 98.5 percent approved of ratification, the union said.

According to the union, several graduate workers reported that UIC is already violating the terms of the strike settlement reached last Friday. That settlement allows grad workers to make up lost hours to avoid losing pay, but some workers said their departments will not allow them make up missed hours, the union said.

McGinnis Gonzalez said in a email that “UIC is working expeditiously with GEO to ensure all contractual agreements are met.”