Teaching Assistants Work Too Hard, Paid Too Little

Images from UIC Graduate Employees Organization Facebook page, 2019

Teaching assistants at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) are the backbone of the university, with so many faculty and undergraduate students relying on the work they do to succeed.

After more than a year of failed contract negotiations, went on strike on March 19, 2019. The strike, as documented by The Chicago Tribune, went on for three weeks, ending officially on April 5, 2019 after the last bargaining session ensured that those who went on strike would not be penalized for doing so.

This strike granted many successes, which meant a fairer contract for members of the UIC Graduate Employees Organization (UIC GEO), such as a $2,550 minimum increase in pay over three years, the largest raise in the union’s history. The other main point the union was fighting for and won was on the subject of fees; the $50 semester fee will be offset by an increase of $55 to their pay, and the international student fee is reduced by half, from $135 to $65 per semester.

A historic moment for the union, it also sparks a conversation regarding fair pay for teaching assistants whose work is incredibly valuable in ensuring the success of the students at UIC.

As a student of UIC, seeing this strike play out the way it did was extremely frustrating on many levels. For the administration to allow negotiations to go on as long as it did and eventually result in a three-week long strike is unacceptable, given that many of what the union was asking for were meager in comparison to the construction projects the university has lined up. That the union ever needed to go on strike is in itself unacceptable, and it speaks volumes on the school’s inability to fairly pay its workers a living wage.

The administration tried to disseminate false information in the hopes of persuading students into believing teaching assistants are paid fairly. I am ashamed that I go to an institution that perpetuates this kind of behavior.

I am extremely grateful for all the hard work of the teaching assistants here at UIC who made it possible to attain a quality education, who were accessible when my professors were not, who juggle being both teacher and student. They are essential to the function of the university and to the success of the students. This strike, though I wish had no need to happen, is an example of the tenacity of the people of UIC; the solidarity and the perseverance of undergraduate and graduate students alike is a force to be reckoned with.

Edit: Days after this strike concluded, a faculty strike was likely to follow. It was (thankfully) avoided through several bargaining sessions.

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