UIC Faculty Members Strike for Fair Contracts, Quality Education

Evening picket line at UIC pavillion on Tuesday. (Photo/Emily Brosious)
Evening picket line at UIC pavillion on Tuesday. (Photo/Emily Brosious)

By Emily Gray Brosious
Originally published at Gapers Block
Feb. 19, 2014

University of Illinois at Chicago United Faculty union members went on strike Tuesday over contract negotiations with the University’s Board of Trustees.

This two-day walkout marks the first faculty strike in UIC’s history.

UICUF said it has been trying to bargain for a fair and equitable contract with the board for over a year-and-a-half but has not seen progress on key issues such as living wages, multi-year contracts and a system of promotion for non-tenure track faculty.

Hundreds of faculty members and supporters joined the picket line Tuesday morning and rallied throughout the day on the university’s East Campus lecture quad.

Just after dusk, demonstrators assembled at the Racine/290 overpass for an Overpass Light Brigade banner with messages of solidarity for striking faculty and commuters.

The day’s actions wrapped up with a picket outside UIC Pavilion, where the Battle of the Deans basketball shootout was taking place.

Elizabeth Todd-Breland, a striking faculty member from the history department at UIC, said she hopes this action will spark a change of heart from the board. Given the strong show of community support, Todd-Breland said she thinks it will become harder for the board to continue skirting the issue.

“Now they know we are serious and we are united,” she said.

Judging by Tuesday’s picket line turnout, it’s clear that UIC faculty members are not fighting this battle for fair labor practices alone. Students, labor organizers and unaffiliated supporters from across the region descended on the university’s East Campus Tuesday to support striking faculty members.

Linda Loew, a Northeastern Illinois University worker and executive board member withAFSCME Local 1989, came out to stand in solidarity with UIC faculty on Tuesday because their issues are directly related, she said.

Faculty members need living wages and a measure of job control in order to have the best possible input into teaching the next generation of university students, she said.

“I’m a member of a union that’s had a contract for many years now and it makes a huge difference for our relationship with the university,” Loew said at the Overpass Light Brigade demonstration. “Workers here, faculty members here have that same right.”

Nick Gordon, a Ph.D. student in the history department at UIC came out to the demonstration to support the faculty’s plight for fair wages.

“I think it’s ridiculous that there are professors making only $30,000 a year. You can’t live on that,” he said.

Emma Bell Bern and Joanna Rudenborg, labor organizers with Peet’s Workers Group joined the picket line Tuesday because UIC faculty are fighting the same battle for living wages and professional dignity as so many other workers, they said.

“What’s happening to them is happening to us and to many labor organizations,” they said in an interview. “Low wage workers, even university faculty, are being edged out, denied living wages and job control. It’s the same, familiar story over and over again.”

Joe Persky, President of UICUF, said that after 18 months of trying to negotiate a fair contract, this strike came as a last resort.

“The heart of UIC is its faculty and its students, but the trustees short change them both,” Persky said in a statement. “They take more of our students’ tuition money, and even with hundreds of millions in profits each year and more than a billion dollars in reserves, they refuse to pay professors what they’re worth.”

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said the reasons for striking went even deeper than fair contract negotiations, however.

“This is a fight to protect high-quality higher education. Our members voted to strike as part of their work to give their students what all students deserve,” Weingarten said in a statement. “Reasonable class sizes, individualized instruction, support for cutting-edge research, and classrooms and labs that are safe and well-equipped are the rights of every student.”

No one could be readily reached for comment on behalf of the UIC Board of Trustees concerning this matter.

The walkout is scheduled to continue through Wednesday evening.

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