Graduate employee explains money issue behind strike

Local News

UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS (WCIA) — The UI graduate employee strike entered its second week, and it could go on for a lot longer.

A graduate employee explained exactly how much they get paid and why they say the money they make isn’t even enough to live on, especially with their work load. But the university says its offer is fair.

They’re going on more than 200 days without a contract. The G.E.O. says it all comes down to money.

Graduate philosophy teaching assistant Adam Edwards says, “I make a little over $16,000 a year. And those paychecks only come in nine months out of the year. So I have to save money over those nine months to live on over the summer.”

The UI says, on average, graduate employees working 20 hours per week make just under $24 an hour. With rent, bills and undergraduate loans, Adam Edwards says what the university pays them is barely a livable wage. 

“It affects our work. It’s something we have to live with, cutting corners and making choices that ideally we wouldn’t have to make.” 

The G.E.O. wants almost a 7.47% minimum wage increase in the first academic year of their contract and a 3.5%  increase in the following years of their contract. The university countered with a 4% increase in the first year and 1.5% for the following years. 

However, there’s another issue. 

“Personally I’m prepared to strike until we get tuition waiver protections in our contract.” 

The university wants to be able to modify tuition waivers, but the G.E.O. says that’s not fair. 

“I was guaranteed a full tuition waiver. It was part of the contract. I actually got here in 2012 when we were fighting our last contract.”

The G.E.O. wants a guarantee from the UI tuition waivers won’t be changed in this new contract. Without it, they could face paying hundreds of dollars or more a month to attend the university. 

“Tuition waiver protections are standard at other universities. My undergraduate advisors told me, ‘Do not attend a program that won’t grant you a full tuition waiver.'” 

Because of those core disagreements, this strike could go on for as long as it takes to get their way. The graduate teaching assistants are not paid while on strike. The university has been bargaining with them since last spring.

The G.E.O. has made the tuition waiver language a central demand in the contract negotiations. The UI responded saying they refused to give up the rights to that.

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