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Faculty strike at U of Illinois-Chicago ends with win

By staff

Members and supporters of the United Faculty Union of the University of Illinois

Chicago, IL – On January 22, the United Faculty Union of the University of Illinois at Chicago ended a four-day strike, winning major improvements for the 1500 full time, tenured and non-tenured faculty represented by the union. The strike has brought more than 300 days of negotiations to a close.

The stated goals of the strike centered around a few key points in the negotiations, chief among them, increased starting pay for faculty across the board, and stronger mental health support for students and faculty.

Despite publicly and repeatedly claiming that it didn’t have the money to pay for these improvements, the UIC administration has in part or in whole given into each of both of these demands. Starting non-tenured faculty pay, previously far below public school teachers, has now increased by $9000 a year, with tenure-track faculty seeing a smaller but still significant raise as well.

While the university refused to include a commitment to free mental health screenings for students in the contract with UF, the union has forced them to make a public commitment to expanding mental health services for students to the tune of millions over the next six years.

These victories came after consistent and overwhelming support from both local and national unions as well as the UIC student body. The first day of the strike saw a rally of over 500 students, faculty and supporters. Speakers ranging from Stacey Davis Gates of the Chicago Teachers Union and Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers to mayoral candidate Brandon Johnson and Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez stood in solidarity with UF.

The second day of the strike members of SDS and other progressive student groups spoke alongside youth activist and candidate for the first district council elections in the county, William “The Kid” Guerrero.

Liz Rathburn, president of SDS attacked the administration’s union busting propaganda and emphasized student-faculty unity. “Admin sent out lying, anti-union emails to the whole student body; up to the last hour of bargaining they were trying to poison the well and divide us from our professors. I’m here to say that they have failed. Your students are with you!” Students and faculty then led a march of more than 300 people into the second to last bargaining session, filling the room.

The next two days saw numbers on the picket lines hold steady. Large student contingents bolstered faculty ranks, with the UIC marching band, instruments in tow, coming out in force to support the union. More union officials, and a coalition of progressive elected officials gave speeches on Thursday and Friday, with a civil disobedience training preparing faculty to disrupt the board of trustees meeting in the event the strike continued.

Bargaining over the weekend went on well into the night, with the union ending the strike five minutes before midnight Sunday, January 22. Students and faculty woke up to the news that the faculty has won a victory against the greed of the UIC administration. A ratification vote for the tentative agreement will be held by the union within the next week.

When asked to sum up the effect the strike has had on the UIC student body, third year English major and SDS member Erin Boyle said this, “Many of my classmates weren’t clear about how or why unions operated, or what a picket line was, much less that they could be crossing one. Then this showed them the power of collective action and directly combatting an exploitive job economy that as students we’re dreading to enter if we haven’t already. The faculty union’s fight for the common good, for all of us, is a beacon of hope for me.”

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