Faculty unionization would have positive impact on University

The Graduate Employees Organization, the union that represents all 2,700 teaching assistants and graduate assistants at the University of Illinois, stands in solidarity with the Campus Faculty Association. 

Last week, members of the GEO participated in a lively CFA event, attended by more than 100 faculty and community members, publicizing the CFA’s union organizing campaign. As a union, the GEO fully supports the efforts of campus faculty to unionize.

A faculty union would have a positive impact on the University. By allowing the faculty to have an officially recognized collective voice, they would be able to participate in shared governance with the University. As a result, they would be able to improve the working conditions of both tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty members. 

We believe it is important for all faculty to have job and wage security, regardless of tenure status.

A unified and empowered faculty is all the more important in a time when reliance upon underpaid adjunct faculty is on the rise, and funding to state universities is uncertain. To maintain high standards in public higher education, the faculty must be able to negotiate fair employment terms. 

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That way, the University will be able to attract talented scholars and provide high-quality instruction. This is a worthy fight, and the GEO has a vested interest in this cause — we have always believed that teachers’ working conditions are students’ learning conditions, graduate and undergraduate alike. 

Furthermore, a faculty union would attract prestigious and talented faculty because working conditions would improve the competitiveness of the University. A union would also assist with the retention of current faculty. In fact, prominent faculty have long associated themselves with unionization. 

As Albert Einstein, himself a founding member of the Princeton Federation of Teachers, Local 552, stated: “I consider it important, indeed urgently necessary, for intellectual workers to get together, both to protect their own economic status and also, generally speaking, to secure their influence in the political field.”

Finally, we know from first-hand experience that unions work. Since the GEO became recognized as a union in 2003, we have improved working conditions for graduate employees and organized in solidarity with University students, staff and faculty to advance higher education more broadly. 

In 2009 and 2012, our contract increased security for graduate tuition waivers, which allows the University to recruit the best and brightest graduate applicants from across the country and around the world. We have also been able to increase wages in excess of inflation every year for the lowest-earning graduate employees. 

Over the past 10 years, we’ve increased the teaching assistant minimum wage by more than 35 percent, bringing us each year closer to a real living wage. And while health insurance costs skyrocket for much of the country, our ability to bargain collectively has reduced health care costs by more than $1,000 a year for most graduate employees. In summary, we know from experience that unionization by the CFA will improve working conditions for faculty and enhance public higher education for the rest of us.

Kaye Usry, graduate student in political science

Lance Larkin, graduate student in anthropology

Matthew Carter, graduate student in natural resources and environmental sciences