UIC Graduate Student Workers End Strike

Graduate student workers at University of Illinois-Chicago returned to classes Tuesday, ending a six-day strike with a marathon bargaining session that ended late Monday.

The Graduate Employee Organization Local 6297, which represents 1,500 grad students who work mostly as teaching and research assistants, said the union and UIC administration reached a tentative agreement just before midnight that includes a 16% pay increase over the life of the three-year contract. The raise will boost minimum pay to around $24,000 per year from $20,000.

“Graduate workers still do not make enough for [the cost of living] in this city, but we are happy,” said GEO organizer Zoe Fox on Tuesday morning. “But we are closer to a living wage.”

UIC officials would not confirm terms of the deal. But in a statement posted to the university website, Chancellor Michael D. Amridis said the administration was pleased with the deal.

“The agreement ends a long negotiation process, but ultimately addresses the needs of our graduate workers while balancing the best interests of our entire campus community,” Amridis said. “We are grateful for the perseverance shown by the university’s negotiating team and the GEO to work through the issues, find common ground, and ultimately, reach a collective bargaining agreement that is fair and beneficial for all involved.”

As union members held a rally on campus Monday, Fox said that the UIC campus otherwise was a “ghost town,” as many full-time faculty canceled classes or moved courses online to avoid crossing the GEO picket.

GEO members began their strike last week after almost a year of bargaining over a contract that expired in August 2021. The deal reached Monday comes in time for the start of final exams next week, likely heading off serious disruptions to review sessions, grading and other work done primarily by GEO members.

Negotiations dragged even after a federal mediator was appointed. The university said that the sides had reached agreements on 21 of 27 articles by the time GEO members held a strike vote April 7, but union members said talks had stalled as negotiations turned to pay increases, reductions in student fees, and creating a process to protect workers who were victims of harassment and discrimination.

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