UIC faculty union goes on strike

By noon, several hundred union members had gathered at the quad for a rally with officials, including Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates, state Rep. Lakesia Collins, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th).

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The UIC United Faculty union went on strike Tuesday after failing to reach a contract agreement during a marathon bargaining session Monday.

The UIC United Faculty union went on strike Tuesday after failing to reach a contract agreement during a marathon bargaining session Monday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Hundreds of faculty at the University of Illinois Chicago hit picket lines across their Near West Side campus Tuesday on the first day of an indefinite strike after nine months of contract negotiations.

The UIC Faculty United union announced late Monday that it would proceed with its walkout after a 12-hour bargaining session still didn’t yield enough movement to land a deal.

Some classes went on as scheduled in departments not affected by the strike. But many students walked around campus observing picket lines and taking photos, some even joining the picketing. 

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A few dozen union members demonstrated outside UIC’s University Hall, chanting, “What do we want? A contract! When do we want it? Now!”

A minute’s walk through campus led to more striking faculty at the East Quad, where members chanted, “Get up, get down, Chicago is a union town!” with Scabby the Rat overlooking them and the Chicago skyline.

By noon, several hundred union members had gathered at the quad for a rally with officials, including Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates, state Rep. Lakesia Collins, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th).

The union is striking for higher minimum salaries, bigger pay raises that match inflation, mental health support for students, better job security for non-tenure track faculty, learning disability assessments for students and more. 

The UIC administration is offering raises of 17% over four years, averaging 4.25% per year, the union said. That figure is composed of merit raises and other specific pools of raises that do not apply to all union members across the board.

Union leaders called that offer insufficient, and said “seven years of record enrollments and over a billion dollars in unrestricted reserve funds” was “evidence that the university can afford to take demands for faculty raises seriously.”

The union has nearly 900 members. The campus has about 34,000 students, including nearly 22,000 undergraduates.

The union announced late Monday night that it would follow through with its walkout after inadequate movement in meetings left faculty and the university administration “far apart” on compensation.

“The campus is thriving, but many faculty are not,” Nicole Nguyen, a member of the union’s bargaining team and associate professor of criminology, law and justice said in a statement. “We have spent the past three years scrambling to mitigate the effects of the pandemic, and our whole community — students and faculty — are exhausted. Management needs to invest in resources that strengthen our entire community.”

In an email to the university community, UIC interim Chancellor Javier Reyes and acting Provost Karen Colley said that “the decision to strike is up to each faculty member” and encouraged students to check their online dashboards and emails for the status of their specific classes and labs.

“Please plan to attend if you have not been told the class or lab is canceled,” Reyes and Colley said.

“This work stoppage is disappointing and not in the best interest of the university or our students. However, UIC fully respects the rights of its employees under the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act and other applicable laws,” the administrators wrote.

The UIC United Faculty union went on strike Tuesday after failing to reach a contract agreement during a marathon bargaining session Monday.

The UIC United Faculty union went on strike Tuesday after failing to reach a contract agreement during a marathon bargaining session Monday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

“During the strike, the university is committed to continuing normal operations to the fullest extent possible,” the university officials said.

The two sides negotiated for 12 hours Monday and agreed to resume bargaining Wednesday.

Union members said they plan to picket daily from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. until a tentative agreement is reached. Rallies will also be held every day on the East Campus Quad at noon and include speeches from state and national union leaders and local politicians, the union said.

The union authorized a walkout in November, when 77% of nearly 900 members voted for and nearly all supported a strike. Union members have been working without a contract since mid-August.

Student mental health has also emerged as a focal point of negotiations. The union has asked for both pay and student supports, such as free psychological and neuropsychological testing to address mental health and the faculty’s corresponding increased workloads.

On Monday, the UIC administration announced it had committed $4.47 million over six years to initiatives to improve student mental health. At the time, officials said “the university remains hopeful that a resolution can be achieved.”

The union last went on strike in 2014. It authorized a walkout in 2019 but reached a deal the day before a planned work stoppage.

Since 2014, faculty at all three University of Illinois campuses — Chicago, Urbana-Champaign and Springfield — have gone on strike. Graduate student workers at UIC went on strike last spring for eight days to raise their pay and reduce student fees. It was their second walkout in three years.

The UIC United Faculty union went on strike Tuesday after failing to reach a contract agreement during a marathon bargaining session Monday.

The UIC United Faculty union went on strike Tuesday after failing to reach a contract agreement during a marathon bargaining session Monday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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