University workers, labor unions protest on the quad


Erica Magda

By Melissa Silverberg

A rally organized by University graduate students Wednesday evening that began on the Quad turned into a protest about labor and wages and ended in a march to the steps of the Swanlund Administration Building.

While the rally was originally organized in recognition of Naomi Klein’s visiting lecture that took place Wednesday night, it soon turned to a forum for several community organizations, labor unions and other groups to voice their concerns.

For a little more than an hour, about 100 protesters carried signs, chanted into megaphones, blew whistles and picketed over several complaints and conflicts they have with the University administration.

“We are trying to keep the pressure up on the administration about three important issues,” said Illinois Educations Association member Gene Vanderport. “Political suppression from the ethics policy, the economic burden on students due to rising tuition, and to demand a living wage.”

The political suppression Vanderport referred to stems from the University ethics policy, which restricts University employees and graduate students from openly expressing their political views, he said.

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No one from the administration could be reached after business hours for comment.

“I like the First Amendment,” said Will Green, graduate student and member of the Graduate Employee’s Organization. “And our University doesn’t respect that.”

Building service workers also attended the rally and voiced their concerns.

“We clean your rooms, we fix your beds, we cook your food,” said Gloria Von Behren, president of Chapter 119 of the Service Employees International Union Local 73. “We just want our piece of the pie.”

A major complaint of the ralliers was the 1.5 percent wage increase for employees, when inflation is increasing at a much higher rate.

“The University is not providing and not promising a living wage to employees,” said Michael Simeone, publicity director for the Graduate Student Organization. “These are the employees that keep the University running.”

The rally also featured a drum corps led by percussionist Chad Dunn to liven the crowd.

“We don’t want people to just clap and go home,” Simeone said. “It’s exciting to see so much energy out here. It’s good to see campus activated about these issues.”

A similar protest took place on the University’s move-in day in August to communicate unhappiness about several of the same issues.

“The University depends on graduate student’s labor to make possible a decent education for students,” said Janine Giordano, history teaching assistant and member of the graduate organization. “When you don’t adequately support those workers you deprive students and the people of Illinois of the quality we strive for.”

Simeone acknowledged that the nation is in an economic crisis, but pointed to the fact that wages for teaching assistants and graduate assistants make up only 2.3 percent of the overall University budget.

“This does not end today, it does not end on Nov. 4, it’s a long haul,” Vanderport said.

With that comment, the crowd began to march down Wright Street chanting “They say cut backs, we say fight back.”

When the crowd arrived at Swanlund they continued chanting “Hey Herman, where’d the money go?”

Protesters of the various groups blew whistles, chanted into megaphones, and climbed the steps of the administration center to bang on the front doors and windows of downstairs offices.

Administrators still in the building did not respond, but were seen looking out a second floor window before closing the blinds and turning off the lights.

After a few minutes of chanting and rallying outside Swanlund, the rally broke up and protesters returned to the Quad.

“It’s not acceptable,” Vanderport said. “We do important work and we deserve to be paid.”