Chicago Teachers Union members and unionized graduate employees from UIC marched downtown on Tuesday in solidarity with striking graduate and teaching assistants at the University of Illinois, who have entered their second week of a work stoppage on the Champaign campus.
About 30 marchers went to the Loop offices of the U. of I. trustees to deliver letters urging them to support the Graduate Employees’ Organization at the state’s flagship public university.
They’ve been without a contract since August, and went on strike on Feb. 26 as they seek guaranteed tuition waivers and a bump in minimum base pay, among other stipulations. The school is eyeing changes to the waivers to save money and tweak programming, though they would not go into effect for currently enrolled students.
Both sides are scheduled for their latest mediation session Wednesday morning.
“We remain hopeful that we can engage in meaningful conversation that leads to an agreement that is fair to all,” university spokeswoman Robin Kaler said in an email.
Nicholas Haas, co-president of the group’s “sister union” of graduate employees at UIC, helped lead the Chicago march, saying it was important to ramp up the pressure on administrators to avoid slashing tuition waivers.
“It would really undermine the ability of the university to attract quality graduate students,” Haas said.
None of the three U. of I. trustees that the demonstrators requested to meet — Ramon Cepeda, James D. Montgomery and former U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald — faced them on Tuesday. Montgomery was out of town, a security guard said.
During their march, which included union representatives from Loyola and DePaul universities, GEO members in Champaign demonstrated outside the house of university president Timothy Killeen. According to union leaders, it’s the longest strike since they formed in the mid-1990s.
The first contract talks since the start of the strike stalled on Sunday.
“We made it clear that our strike is strong and we are not backing down from our position: if you are employed doing bargaining unit work, you receive full compensation per our contract, including a full tuition waiver, regardless of what department you are employed by or study in,” union officials wrote in a statement.
U. of I. graduate assistants make an average of about $16,300 per year, according to an online campaign they’ve started to fund the strike. They also are seeking child care subsidies and expanded health care coverage in contract negotiations.
UIC graduate employees are not striking but they are back at the bargaining table with their contract set to expire this August. Haas decried a pay structure that includes fees on employees for using campus technology equipment.
“You’re at work, and your employer is essentially charging you to do that work,” Haas said.