The Undergraduate-Graduate Alliance has written an open letter to leading Democratic gubernatorial candidates asking why they have not supported the UIUC GEO in their strike to win a fair contract.

Here’s the letter:

For almost 11 months, the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) of the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana (UIUC) has been with without a contract, having been locked in frustrating negotiations with the university administration, which has refused to compromise on essential aspects of the union’s contract, such as compensation, healthcare, and — most importantly — tuition waivers. This past Monday, February 26th, the GEO went on strike.

In short, the university administration’s intentions to decrease protections for graduate employees is an attack on not only education but also labor in Illinois. Rescinding protections of the aforementioned stipulations will make graduate school unaffordable for the majority of current and future graduate students, many of whom are already struggling with large sums of debt from their undergraduate education. Failing to protect the accessibility of higher education will yield detrimental results in our state’s educational reputation and ability to prevent ambitious young people from studying — and ultimately living — in other states. Furthermore, as the foremost state institution in Illinois, the way the UIUC administration treats its workforce sets a precedent for employers throughout the state.

In this primary season, the leading gubernatorial candidates who claim to be pro-labor have unceasingly argued that they are each unwavering proponents of organized labor. Pritzker has aired several commercials highlighting his union endorsements and ability to walk around a factory in a hardhat. JB himself has said, “The fact is, the labor movement is key to restoring the middle class in Illinois, and I’m committed to working together to protect our families.”

Biss has publicly come out in support of the unionization of graduate students throughout several universities in Illinois, wore a GEO pin on his most recent visit to the UIUC campus, and did recently endorse the GEO over Twitter.

Kennedy claims to have a history of preferring to hire the labor of unionized businesses, and has expressed desires to make the Illinois Governor’s office more friendly to organized labor and appropriately funded pensions. Having been the Chairman for the University of Illinois’ Board of Trustees, Kennedy should be intimately knowledgeable of the inner workings of the university.

Regardless of each candidate’s history and stance on unionism, the fact is that so far few have used their unique positions of power, influence, and media attention to pressure the university administration to bargain with the GEO in good faith. Each claim to be vanguards of unionism and protectors of the middle class, but at the present moment most have failed to act on an opportunity to stand up for organized labor in a case that has the potential of exemplarily resisting the encroaching right-to-work ideology.

As potential governors it is essential that they put they turn their words into action in order to win the sincere trust of Illinoisans. That is why we call on each gubernatorial candidate who claims to support labor to endorse the GEO in their fight to win a #FairContractNow, and to demonstrate their wholehearted support by speaking at a GEO rally.

Photo by Megan Flowers