Support the GEO's Contract Negotiations
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We the undersigned undergraduate students stand in solidarity with the graduate employees in their struggle for tuition waivers, a living wage, and equitable working conditions. In the event of a strike, we stand firmly in our support of the GEO and will continue to do so until the University administration bargains in good faith.
For almost 200 days, the Graduate Employees’ Organization has been without a contract as a result of the University Administration’s unwillingness to bargain in a fair and respectful manner. Instead of obtaining adequate compensation for their unwavering dedication to this institution and those that pass through it, they are asked to concede; instead of being recognized as integral aspects of the university’s continued repute and prosperity, they are treated as if they are disposable; instead of being treated as equals at the bargaining table, they are approached as if they are subordinate.
The illusion of absolute power which the university tries to assert over the GEO would be immoral and problematic in any workplace setting, but is especially deplorable when one considers how integral graduate employees are to the University of Illinois’ academic success and positive international reputation. As undergraduate students, our experiences on this campus have been powerfully shaped by interactions with graduate students; without them, we would struggle to understand concepts, improve writing and technical skills, and make connections that are important to post-graduation plans. In other words, without the intelligence and dedicated labor of graduate employees, we would have fewer opportunities to excel as students and future workers. Outside of the undergraduate sphere, research and administrative work done by graduate employees strongly contribute to this university's reputation of quality, ultimately ensuring that it continues to receive both more graduate and undergraduate students in the coming years. Without these contributions, it is unclear what the future of the university would look like.
While it can be easy to think about how undergrads personally benefit from caring about and becoming involved in an issue related to our education, the treatment of the GEO at the bargaining table is an issue larger than your personal relationship with your TA. It is true that when our instructors don’t receive enough for sustenance, they are not able to be fully there for us mentally or physically; it is true that when they have to take on an overwhelming workload to simply pay for the necessities, they are stretched too thin to give adequate attention to our needs; and it is true that when they have to work so much they cannot contribute to their own academic pursuits, our university deteriorates as an institution.
But as employees of the foremost institution in our state, the treatment of graduate employees sets the stage for the treatment of workers throughout Illinois. It impacts our future experiences with our employers, and helps determine whether they are positive and collaborative or oppressive and exploitative. The GEO’s negotiations with the university seem to hold in the air questions such as, “Is all work dignified?”, “Should workers receive living wages?”, and “Should collective bargaining be honored by employers?”. Our collectively shared future as workers makes the answer to these questions immensely important, now and in the future.
The treatment of a specific workforce is never isolated or independent from the treatment of workers as a whole in the industry or region. What happens here has implications for all workers in Champaign-Urbana, in Champaign County, and in the state of Illinois. We cannot allow the university administration, therefore, to decide what happens here. Instead, it is our responsibility to come together collectively in support of the GEO to decide the answers ourselves. As undergraduate students, our future--and the future of those around us--depend on it.
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